[Written by Garrett Greer]
I love good climbing documentaries. The really good ones manage to capture some of the thrill of climbing and exploration, but without any of the actual work or danger. I recently watched The Alpinist on Netlfix, and while I can say that not all of it is totally family-friendly, it’s well worth a watch. It’s the story of Marc-André Leclerc, a young climber obsessed with exploring the wilderness and the hardest to reach places on Earth.
The film at first shows his impossible abilities—his strength, confidence, and speed in climbing impossible peaks—all without ropes or harnesses. Apparently he would dodge the cameramen and didn’t really want to be with anyone else while climbing—he wanted it to be just him and the mountain. Leclerc sought to climb not as a sport or a profession, but as a spiritual exercise, trying to find some spiritual meaning or significance in his experience with untamed mountains.
In pursuit of ever greater achievements and summits, the film follows Leclerc’s adventures until his tragic and surprising death while summiting a new route on the North face of the Mendenhall Towers. Leclerc had summited the peak, even texted his girlfriend and mom, only to be killed by the mountain on his way back down. The film ends on a bittersweet note as both the filmmakers and his girlfriend try to understand his death and give it some sort significance. It ends as something of a memorial to Leclerc, essentially arguing that his death was worth it since he died doing what he loved.
I couldn’t help but remember a clip of a John Piper entitled “Don’t Waste Your Life.” In it, John Piper contrasts two news stories. The first is a tale of two women in their 80’s, a doctor and a nurse, that had taken their retirement years and chosen to live as medical missionaries. They had suddenly died in a car crash in Cameroon when their brakes failed. The second is a story of an elderly couple that took an early retirement to move to Florida, collect seashells, and play softball. Piper pleads with the crowd to grasp that the true tragedy wasn’t the death of two women serving the Lord on mission, but the couple that build their lives around recreation.
As Piper says, “With all my heart I plead with you: don’t buy that dream. The American Dream: a nice house, a nice car, a nice job, a nice family, a nice retirement, collecting shells as the last chapter before you stand before the Creator of the universe to give an account of what you did: ‘Here it is Lord — my shell collection! And I’ve got a nice swing, and look at my boat!’ Don’t waste your life; don’t waste it.”
As I watched The Alpinist I was struck by the tragedy of Leclerc’s death. Here was a man enraptured by creation—something I can relate to. This man clearly saw the beauty of mountains shaped by the hand of God, and yet tragically failed to see God himself. He only saw the creation instead of the creator. Devoting his life to himself, he was willing to die in search of the next great adventure.
I was convicted that I too sometimes get caught up in my “shell collecting.” I too often look for the next great adventure, wishing to be somewhere else and shirking the mission in front of me. I hope that as believers we can somehow find a way to combine Leclerc’s spirit of adventure with the fervor of Piper’s plea to live on mission. Hopefully we can correctly distinguish between creation and creator, and also see that our role on Earth isn’t just to find ourselves and our happiness, collecting shells and summiting peaks, but to live on mission too.
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made…. 25 but they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served creation rather than the Creator….
-Romans 1:19-20, 25