Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Sovereignty of God

The sovereignty of God, at least how it relates to human free will, is a challenging topic with a variety of ways that people understand it. Rather than rehashing what others say about this, I would like to briefly express what I have come to believe about the subject.

I believe that God is sovereign, he is a ruler with absolute power and knowledge. As sovereign, he is answerable to no one, especially to his human creations. He made us, and he does not owe us an explanation for how or why he did so, as much as we might like one. The ninth chapter of Romans is especially clear on God's sovereignty, in particular as it concerns what he is doing with us. There are some that God has destined for glory, and others that he destined for destruction. And that destiny is not based on what we may, or may not, have done.  It is solely based on his sovereignty. He chooses and rejects whom he wants to.

Is that fair? From a human perspective, maybe not. We would like to think that God would reward or punish us based on our actions. And typically our views of heaven and hell reflect that.  Be good, and paradise awaits you. Be bad, and face eternal punishment. But God is not like us, and we err when we try and see him as such. God is much more than I can conceive of, and judging him according to human standards is ludicrous.

I do not profess to understand God's purpose in creation, but I am reasonably certain that it was not so that he could have a heaven full of people to reward and hang out with for eternity. There certainly seems to be an easier way to accomplish that. Scripture tells us that, as believers, we are his children, and that seems to be not just for this life, but also in the future that awaits us; like some form of reproduction. And if that is so, then God most likely chooses those who have the characteristics he wants, based on this life, with the others being destroyed when physical life comes to an end.

While God is sovereign and can arbitrarily choose whoever he wants, the Bible is clear that faith plays a role in the selection. While some see faith as something we do and lump it with 'works', the Bible pretty clearly distinguishes between the two (i.e. Romans 3:28). It seems that faith is what God wants, and all who will live a life of faith in him will be chosen.

Some will argue that God gives faith to those he wants, but that would seem to be at odds with the repeated calls for us to have faith; calls that seem to indicate some personal responsibility. It seems more in line with scripture to see faith as something that is natively within me. Besides, if God wants all of us to be saved, and he is responsible for supplying the faith, why doesn't everyone have faith?

My faith however, does not obligate God in any fashion. He is sovereign, and if in his sovereignty he decides to select the faithful and reject everyone else, that is his right. In no way does my faith impinge on God's sovereign choice, or force him to act on my behalf.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Appleton Pass

One of the joys of being retired is being able to spend more time in the Olympics.  I took advantage of that last week and headed for Appleton Pass.  It had been a few years since I had been up there and I wanted to do some exploration of the meadows between there and Spread Eagle Pass.  I left the Boulder Creek trailhead late Monday morning and headed for the pass.  This was my first trip up since the old road to the hot springs had been replaced.  This first 2.5 miles of trail is now broad and gentle with several new bridges.  After the Boulder Creek campground the trail becomes much narrower and very brushy in places, although it is a pleasant trail; especially since there were no people on the trail above the hot springs, except for one couple day hiking up close to the pass.

I made it up to the pass by mid-afternoon and set up my hammock near Oyster Lake, collected some water from the spring below the lake, and then circled around to the peak on the far side of the lake.  The skys were clear and the views spectacular; Olympus was majestic.  Tuesday was spent exploring the meadows and hanging around the lake, soaking in the views and doing a little reading.  And Wednesday morning I packed up and headed out, stopping at the hot springs for a quick soak.  It was a great trip and, once past the hot springs, very isolated.

This is one of the new bridges just below the hot springs.  When you are on the bridge you can look down and still see the old footlog that you used to have to cross.

The upper falls on the south fork of the Boulder creek.  It is just below the log across the creek.

The meadow below Appleton Pass is brushy, but is very colorful.  The trail is easy to follow, but there are times you have to push your way through some dense shrubbery.

Mt Olympus from atop the outlook near the pass.  The outlook is easy to get to and it offers outstanding views.

I am not positive, but I believe the meadow is Soleduck Park, home.  This is also visible from the lookout point as well as the way trail to Spread Eagle Pass.

Mt Appleton as seen from the lookout.

Down the Boulder Creek drainage.

Oyster Lake.  This shot is taken from the ridge that winds up to the lookout point.  My campsite is just into the trees behind the bare spot above the lake.  The trail running down to the bottom of the picture leads to a small spring that provides fresh water.

Sunset over the lake.

The meadows were full of bear grass in bloom.  I watched a deer take the top off one of them in one bite.

Oyster Lake again, this time from the trail and campsite.  You circle around the ridge to the right to the viewpoint behind the lake; about a 15 minute trip.  

This lake is to the east of the way trail to Spread Eagle Pass, over the ridge that is to the left of the trail.  I didn't make it all the way to the lake, but someday will go back and camp there.  

You can just barely see the trail climbing through the meadow on the left toward Spread Eagle Pass.  Once over the pass you would traverse for a bit before coming to Cat Lake.

It was hard to get a good picture, but there were hundreds of butterflies along the shore of Oyster Lake Tuesday evening, seemingly drinking and making baby butterflies.

Oyster Lake has a decent population of tadpoles.  These were clustered in the shallow area near where the outlet would be if the water was high enough.

The lake also had at least 10-12 frogs that seemed to spend their time hanging out on the beach or at the edge of the lake.  Also saw a couple of salamanders.  

I saw this guy, along with his twin and mom walking down the trail from the pass on Tuesday morning.  When I went down the trail Wednesday morning, he was laying motionless in a switchback, not even blinking.  Was he dead, or just hiding in plain sight?  I hope the later, but I got as close as 5 foot away and saw nothing to indicate any life.

As I rounded the switch, there was mom and twin heading down the trail away from me, periodically looking back, maybe to see it they were successfully leading me away from the other fawn.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Retreat at Cedar Lake

Earlier this week I took off for 3 days and went to one of my favorite places in the Olympics, Cedar Lake.  I started from Deer Park and made the long descent to Three Forks and then back up the Gray Wolf to where the shelter used to be; it is just a burned pile of timbers now.  From there a way trail heads off up the Cedar Creek drainage a couple of miles to the lake, which sits in a moderate sized basin.  The lake is about a third of a mile long and surrounded on three side by steep walls.  It has a couple of small campsites when you first come to the lake, and I grabbed the first one because it has the best hanging place for my hammock.

I spent two nights at the lake, with a full day in between and thoroughly enjoyed it, except for the persistent mosquitoes; I have seen much worse, but there were enough to be an irritant.  While there I enjoyed a trip around the lake, a little exploring, a swim, and some reading and meditating.  It's really great to get away to a place like that and just reflect on God, life, and whatever else comes to mind.

On Wednesday I was up fairly early and was on the way by 6:30.  On my first trip into the lake, about 7 years ago, a friend and I had traversed across from a tarn a bit below the Gray Wolf Pass, and I had decided to reverse that trip on the way out.  There is no easy path around the lake.  On one side it is all scree and rock, and sometime so steep that it is challenging, and I opted not to try that with a pack.  The other side is covered in steep meadows and some trees, but is very wet.  Much of it is just oozing water and is pretty slick.  I opted for that side, and of course fell down on one especially slick slope; glad to have gotten that out of my system early.  Once at the other end of the lake I climbed half a mile or so up a relatively easy grade before getting into a steeper section for the upper half of the climb.  I had remembered a bit of a trail coming down from the pass, but found no trace of one this time until I was nearly out.  But the climb was uneventful and offered good views of the lake and basin below.

From the pass there is an occasional track through the heather that leads toward the Gray Wolf pass, past three tarns, and ending behind a fourth tarn that is visible from the Gray Wolf trail a half mile below the pass.  Even without the trail, if you knew the basic direction to head it would be hard to get too lost.  It was probably not much over a mile, and was bounded by a steep ridge on one side and a sharp drop off on the other.  The traverse, while short, was scenic and enjoyable.

Once back to the Gray Wolf, I just followed the trail back to Three Forks and then trudged back up to Deer Park, about 3000 feet of up in 4.5 miles.  All in all, a very good trip.  And the only people I saw the whole time were between Deer Park and Three Forks; right at 48 hours with no people.

This view is taken from near the Deer Park trailhead, as you make the short initial ridge walk. In real life you can easily discern the valleys that the Grand, Cameron and Gray Wolf flow through and see Three Forks, where they all come together.

The inside of this rotted tree trunk on the Gray Wolf looks like a medieval torture chamber.

One of my favorite stretches of trail on the Gray Wolf.  It is only a few hundred yards long, but everything is covered with thick moss.  It just looks so inviting and soft.

The upper trail along the Cedar creek, and around the lower end of the lake basin, was covered in Avalanche lilies.  The wildflowers were beautiful and abundant throughout most of the trip.

Closeup of an Avalanche lily.

Lots of Asters of different sizes and colors.

The Columbine were out in full force as well.  They are hard to get a good picture of  because the flower usually is facing the ground.  

There is a tarn up above the lake that had a pretty healthy population of tadpoles, and one frog.  When I went by they seemed all to be sunning themselves in the shallow fringes of the tarn, hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of them.

Looking back at the lake from up above the south end of the lake, and the tadpole tarn.  Camp was setup near the middle of the clump of trees at the far end of the lake, right next to the exit stream.

At one point, while walking around the lake, I felt something on the back of my leg, and found this little guy taking a break.  First time I can recall having a pet butterfly, even if only for a few minutes.

At the end of this trail you can just see my hammock nestled in the trees.  The lake in ahead and visible to the right.  The creek is behind the trees to the right. While it would have been hard to put much of a tent in here, it is perfect for a hammock.  In fact, that is the spot I saw my first backpacking hammock and was convinced to give them a try.

The big rock in the foreground made a good platform to swim from.  The low point in the far ridge wall was my exit point the next day.

I am not a fisherman, but if I was I would have been eating good.  There were lots of trout in the lake, looking to be around 8-10 inches.

A look back at the lake from the pass out of the basin.

Looking the other way from the same pass, toward the Gray Wolf pass.  The trail heads down the valley in the lower center and then veers to the right.  You can just see on of the tree tarns that you skirt on the way out.

Looking back at one of the little tarns on the way down.

Looking down the Gray Wolf valley, midway through the traverse.

I think I counted 7 foot logs across the Graywolf as well as one across the Cameron and another across the Grand.  This spot actually had two of them, with the one in the background broken at the end and apparently replaced by the other one.

All that's left of the Gray Wolf shelter.  I don't know when it burned, but the first time I came up this valley, probably 17-18 years ago, it was intact.

The footlog across the Cameron has broken in the middle, and both halves have rolled 90 degrees.  A little more challenging to cross, but still easily doable.

Quite a few Candy Sticks were sprouting on the Tree Forks trail.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Why An Imperfect Creation?

I am generally happy with my life and the world I live in.  While I could easily find ways to improve it, it is OK the way it is.  But I know that is not true of everyone, or even the majority of folks.  For many, life is hard and they just barely manage to survive; many failing to do even that.  We live in an imperfect world: natural disaster, disease and human choices, both our own and others, cause untold suffering; not just to people, but to every creature that inhabits this planet.  While, as a race, we might dream of a more perfect place, and take steps to move in that direction, the reality is that we seem to be sliding further and further away from the perfection we all long for.

But why does it fall short of perfection?  Obviously we humans are the cause of much of the imperfection.  But we are not really responsible for earthquakes and hurricanes; those things are a natural part of how the planet works.

I believe that God is the creator, of this world as well as the whole universe.  But if he created it, should it not be perfect?  Is he not smart enough and powerful enough to be able to figure out, and produce, a better way?  Would it really be so challenging to produce a world without mosquitoes?

There are those who will argue that God did indeed create a perfect place for us, and that Adam's sin in the garden of Eden is the reason that it is no longer perfect.  But even if the story of the fall in the garden is taken literally, it seems a reach to claim it caused the earth's crust to fracture into plates and then begin to move; high and low pressure patterns to develop in the atmosphere;  dogs and cats to become meat eaters; or microbes to start preying on humans.

But what if God created a world that was good, but not perfect?  That would certainly be within the capabilities of an omnipotent, omniscient creator.  But why would he intentionally create something that was less than his best; unless it better suited his purpose?  But what purpose could there be in creating an imperfect world, unless maybe it was to create in me a longing for something that was better than what I have here.

If this life were perfect, then I would be perfectly content to live out my days here without giving a thought for anything else.  But if this life is not perfect, if I can imagine a world that is better, then I will long for that.  It may drive me toward making improvements in the world around me; seeking perfection here.  But history has shown that we will likely never reach perfection here; and the trend seems to be in the opposite direction.  So I am left with a longing that cannot find fulfilment in this life.

But the creator does hold out for me the promise of something that is much better than what I have here, something that is beyond my wildest imagination. But that promise comes with a catch.  I must be willing to let go of what this life has to offer, instead choosing to follow Jesus as his disciple.  If I will be his in this life, then I will be his through eternity, sharing in his glory in that perfect place that he has prepared for his own.  The choice is yours: striving for happiness in an imperfect world; or surrendering to Jesus lordship now, in expectation of the glory that will be revealed in the life to come.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. - Matthew 16:24-27 NIV

Friday, May 29, 2015

Making Sense of it All

There seems to be two general thoughts regarding this universe and the life it contains.  Either it was intentionally and purposefully created.  Or it just happened randomly, without purpose.  While there may be some other broad category that I am unaware of, it seems like everyone I have ever discussed this with, read about, or listened to fell into one of these camps.  And some of them quite adamantly so.

But does it really matter what you believe about how our universe, and life, came to exist?  Is it more than just an academic question?  While I believe that some aspects of the question are academic, I also believe that there are some real practical issues involved as well.

On the somewhat academic side, it is much easier for me to grasp that the universe was created with purpose, rather than just springing into existence from nothing, on its own and for no reason.  I know there are many people who seem OK with the latter, but I suspect, at least in part, that it is because the alternative is unacceptable to them.  If the idea of God is offensive to you, then the only alternative is to be willing to accept that you are the product of an endless sequence of random chances, and the implications that brings.

Those same people who find a creator to be unacceptable will often times accuse me of substituting 'God did it' for scientific discovery; as if somehow the two are incompatible.  Personally, I see no issue with accepting that God did it, while at the same time trying to figure out the details of what he did.  Accepting that the truck I drive was made by someone does not prevent me from trying to understand how it works.

The more science discovers about how the universe was formed, and how it functions, the more impressed I am with the creator who put it all together.  This universe is complex, much more so that it appears on the surface, with an awful lot of moving parts that need to fit together with a great deal of precision.  Why is that so?  Why is there life in this universe?  Why do we have the ability to think rationally?   Could it all have happened by chance?  I suppose so; but it makes much more sense to me to see it as the work of a creator who has a purpose for all that he does.

But ultimately, does it really matter whether or not we have a purposeful creator?  I believe it does, and dramatically so.  If the universe was intentionally and purposefully created, then it would stand to reason that I have a purpose; there is a reason for me being here.  But if the universe is just the result of some cosmic happenstance, then there really is no purpose for my existence.  the universe is no better off for my presence, and would be no worse off if I did not exist.

If I was created with purpose, and I have purpose, a reason for being, then what I do in this life matters.  Now I may or may not invest much time and effort in trying to discover my purpose; and actually it appears to me that few really do.  But at the very least I will live as if I matter, and that other people around me matter.  That people have value simply because the creator made them.  But think how much better it would be to have some understanding of what the creator's purpose is for your life, and them living to fulfill that purpose.  Rather than just existing, you could find fulfilment in being what you were made to be.

But what purpose could you possible have if the universe is simply a product of blind chance?  You, or your society, might assign to you some purpose.  But what makes that purpose any better than any other purpose?  Or no purpose at all?  If we have no real purpose, and we are just accidents, then we really have no value as people, and the implications for that are pretty frightening.  Think about it.  If you have no value, then does it matter how I treat you?  Is it not reasonable to just live this life, enjoying it the best I can, without regard for anyone else?  Fortunately, even most who believe we are a cosmic accident are unwilling to live as though life had no value; although I am uncertain why that is.  Maybe they really don't believe they are an accident.

Finally, if this life is simply the product of a long line of random events, and I am nothing more than one more link in the chain, then there is no reason to believe that I have any future. When this life is over, then I am done, and it would be foolish not to maximise my pleasure and satisfaction during the brief moments I have to experience them.

While having an intentional creator does not guarantee a future beyond this life, it does open up that possibility.  And that is really at the heart of the gospel message of Christianity; that the creator made me for a purpose that extends beyond this life.  And all who will walk before him in faith will experience life with him forever.  And in that case it really is important how I life my life here.  Sacrifice and self denial is not the foolish choice that they would be if I had no future.  Rather they become key components to becoming what the creator made me for.

While I know that everyone will not agree with me, the only way I can make sense of my existence, as well as the rest of what I see around me, is by accepting that it was intentionally produced, that there is a purpose for my existence, and that my life has some meaning.  And it would seem to me that even those who will deny this, actually believe it at some level, or why act as though their life had meaning and purpose?

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.- Revelation 3:20

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Struggling into Kennedy Meadows

After a nero day in Lake Isabella, it was time to hit the trail for the last two days up to Kennedy Meadows.  Sue dropped me off at Walker Pass shortly after 6 and the big climb began.

 The terrain here is mostly rolling hills, but there are several ridges, requiring big climbs that must be dealt with.  This first day started with a 2300 foot climb, followed by a 2000+ descent, a 1000 ft ascent, a 1000 ft descent, a 2000 ft ascent and finally a 1000 ft descent.  And that was just the first day.  Fortunately the climbs were generally not steep, but they were long and steady.  By days end I was whooped.

From near the top of the first climb I could look out and see highway 395 below, along with some of the businesses along the way.  This jagged peak, and a similar ridge were also prominent.

It took me a moment when I ran across this in the trail, just before the day's second climb.   But apparently it marks the quarter way point for thru hikers.  The first quarter has been mostly dry.  The next quarter will be up high and much wetter.  The folks I have been generally traveling with will be in the snow in a couple of days.

We have been in the Sierra range since leaving Tehachapi, although it is generally hard for me to tell the difference from the other ranges we have been in.  There does seem to be more of these unusual rock formations though.  Erosion has left many unusual stacks and piles of rocks that give the appearance of being sculpted and placed.

Toward the end of the first day out I discovered this dinosaur skull fossil setting alongside the trail.  Based on the teeth it was obviously a giant herbivore, indicating the climate was not always as dry as it is not.

I saw formations like this several times, with the row of little blocks sandwiched between larger layers of stone.  Not being a geologist, it appears to be different layers of sediment laid down, then uplifted and finally exposed and eroded.

The last day started with a climb up over 8000 ft and then began a long descent through a burn.  There seemed to be little beyond sage that was growing, for miles and miles as the trail slowly wound down through an endless valley. This descent lasted for several hours and I finally plugged in some music to pass the time.

Sometimes it is easy to take for granted the effort that goes into building a trail. For the most part it seems like it is built just by the tromp of countless feet.  And then you come on a place where the trail is clinging to a cliff and you can begin to appreciate the effort that goes into making a trail like this possible.

Once the valley traversal is at an end, the trail comes out onto a mostly barren plain.  There was still about 8 miles left to Kennedy Meadows, and I found that I was shot.  No energy and no motivation.  I was ready to just sit down and quit.  Problem was that if I sat down I would still be there; no bus was coming by.  I finally realized that part of my problem was that I was not eating enough (a common trail problem for me), so I ate a bag of granola and pushed ahead, eventually gaining a certain measure of strength and determination.

The last three or so miles follows the south fork of the Kern River.  As rivers go, it is not very impressive.  But apart from Silverwood Lake and the California Aqueduct, it was the biggest body of water I remember following.

Kennedy Meadows is at 702 miles, so this pile of rocks at the side of the trail was a welcome sight.  700 miles from the Mexican border, nearly 500 of them on this trip.

 For some reason I had envisioned Kennedy Meadows as a backcountry resort/outfitter.  I was surprised to see that it was actually a small town.  Apart from a few houses and a store I did not see anything there to build a town around, but there it was.

The store in Kennedy Meadows is where its at as far as thru hikers are concerned.  When I arrived there were 4 guys in the parking lot playing with a Frisbee, and cheering everyone in came in.  I never went into the store, but the porch was crowded with 2-3 dozen hikers who were going through packages, repacking, eating and just visiting.

From here the trail quickly ascends high into the Sierra.  Within a day of leaving here you are over 10,000 feet high, and, when I finished, likely up into the recent snow.

Puff Puff, upper left; Growler, upper right; and Cool Breeze, left; were a group of hikers that had come together early in the hike.  I encountered them periodically along the way, including here at Kennedy Meadows.  They are likely in the snow now.
Michael and Marcus, the 'Swiss Army' were two young Swiss men who were hiking the PCT.  I ran into them several times as well.

Marvin was one of the few I encountered older than I was.  We hiked together part of one day and ran into each other frequently over the last week.

After 30 days and just shy of 500 miles, I have finished the southern California section of the PCT that I started last year.  It has been a challenging month, both physically and mentally.  But it has been a good trip and I consider myself fortunate to have been able to experience it.  And especially fortunate that my wife, Sue, has been willing to devote the past month providing support for me along the way.

After 6 years on the trail, I have completed about 2000 miles of the trail with only the southern piece of Washington and the high Sierra left to complete.  Next year should see it finished.