They say it was formed some forty to sixty million years ago, fashioned by volcanic lava that flowed through the area, then by glaciers–some 10,000 feet thick–that pushed down from the north. What really shaped the area, though, were the overwhelming floods which poured into the basin when an ice dam at Lake Missoula in Montana broke apart eighteen thousand years ago, rising the water levels to more than 400 feet deep at the spot where the city of Portland now sits.
When the waters finally began to recede, however, what was left was an incredible canyon stretching all along the Columbia River for over eighty miles, winding westward through the Cascade Mountain Range. Marked by steep and dramatic walls, and studded with Big Leaf Maple, Douglas Fir, and Western hemlock trees,within that gorge are more than 90 waterfalls, with at least a few tumbling more than six hundred feet to play in the ponds below.
Needless to say, thus, to a flat-lander from Texas, it is a dramatic site and one which made for an incredible excursion indeed while on the “off” day of the General Conference. But I couldn’t help but think that none of the beauty we saw would have been possible had the land itself not gone through an extended period of extreme trauma, what some have called an even “catastrophic process” in geological history.
And, in turn, perhaps that is what we’ve been experiencing in our church as well, particularly in the forty-year battle over how to think about human sexuality and other hot button issues. For within our fellowship there have been powerful forces on all sides exerting an incredible amount of pressure on the church, and even a few volcanic eruptions from time to time as well. And likewise, it would now seem that a dam somewhere upstream has broken and the floodwaters are continuing to rise all around us.
Here is what I know, however, that gives me hope: the God of Creation, the God of volcanos and glaciers, of flowing lava and flowing water, the God of our canyons and the God of the Gorge is the God of the Church, as well. So even when we look at the steep walls around us and see no path forward, God is able to cut a channel wherever He wishes, making a way where there is no way, as Isaiah 43 reminds us.
To be sure, the pressures on the church this week will be fierce ones as we pass through the growing gorge of our group dysfunctions and disagreements. But if God can use a catastrophic process to carve out something as beautiful as the Columbia River Gorge, then perhaps He can even take the catastrophes of our lives–and the life of our church– and turn them into something incredible as well.
I just hope it’s not going to take another forty to sixty million years.