by Ken Fuquay
This year, after seven long years of “crag-climbing,” I will graduate from Union Presbyterian Seminary. Two framed diplomas with my name printed largely on them will hang on the wall in my office. To the casual observer those pieces of paper will be a testament to my commitment and endurance. In reality, what they testify to is the faithfulness of God and the unwavering commitment of my armor-bearers: those men and women who helped me climb this crag called seminary.
There is a fascinating story of courage, commitment and endurance in the 14th chapter of 1 Samuel that involves Jonathan, the son of King Saul, and a young unnamed man who carries Jonathan’s armor. In this particular event, Jonathan determines that he will leave the security of his father’s army and go over to the garrison of Philistines who are camping at the pass of Michmash. Jonathan is convinced that Jehovah will act on his behalf and allow him to seize the garrison. He tells his armor-bearer in verse 6, “For there is no restraint to Jehovah to save by many or by few.” Then, without hesitation, the armor-bearer responds, “Do all that your mind inclines to. I am with you, as your mind is, so is mine.” Thank God for armor-bearers.
The full ramifications of the armor-bearer’s response to Jonathan’s request cannot be understood unless we grasp the magnitude of the task before them. According to Scripture, “in the pass,” by which Jonathan (and his armor-bearer) would have to travel in order to reach the station of the Philistine garrison, “there was a rocky crag on one side and a rocky crag on the other.” Many times, to get where God calls us, we cannot avoid the crags.
A crag is a steep, rugged rock or cliff. Typically, the surface of a crag provides great friction and lends itself to pockets, roofs and even intermittent cracks. Sometimes the temperature near the wall of the crag measures up to 20 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature. Modern day climbers name the crags they conquer. They give them names like Pull Down Resistor, Sunrise Iron Girl, Robbing the Tooth Fairy, Dragon Lady and Devil’s Crag. That naming gives us a verbal sense of the challenge that a crag presents.
The crags in 1 Samuel are also named. The crag to the north is called Bozez, meaning “mud-bog.” The crag to the south is named Seneh, which means “bramble or enemy.” There is much speculation as to the exact weight of Jonathan’s armor. But whether it weighed three pounds or thirty, the young man compelled to bear the armor committed himself to the vision as much, if not more, than Jonathan. Scripture’s account of their crag-climb is brief, but the visual is vivid. Jonathan climbed up the crag on his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer following after him (1 Samuel 14:13).
I sat through Union Presbyterian Seminary’s “days for discernment” in 2007. I listened to the crag-climbing tales of students and graduates. But there was no way in the euphoria of that moment to grasp the depth of dedication required, the degree of perseverance necessary nor the level of compulsory sacrifice to climb the crag called seminary. I only knew that the call of God felt like fire shut up in my bones and I was confident, like Jonathan, that “the LORD would act on my behalf.” I began to verbalize my story and express my desire to respond to God’s call. Armor-bearers began to speak into my life saying, “We are with you completely, whatever you decide.” So, in August 2007, knowing I could no longer avoid the crag, I enrolled at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte.
Although the pedagogical paradigm at the Charlotte campus is designed specifically for the second-career student, the challenge is no less formidable. The task is seemingly magnified because, in addition to being seminary students, those of us on the Charlotte campus are mommies and daddies, husbands and wives. We are elders, Sunday school teachers and committee members. We sing in the choir; we coach little league and we work full-time jobs. We are commuters who drive many hours each way every weekend to attend class. We are crag-climbers responding to God’s call. Seminary is a series of relentless deadlines, research papers, late night writing stints and study groups. It requires its share of library campouts, conference calls and projects. There are the inevitable battles with Greek syntax and Hebrew diacritic marks.
At times climbing the crag called seminary was exhausting and it felt like the well-bolted anchors were giving way and I was left to dangle or, worse yet, plummet to the canyon floor. There were days when I felt like I was crawling on my hands and feet. But in those moments, without fail, God acted on my behalf. Armor-bearers appeared. They gave me support and pulled me to safety. And there in the cleft of the crag, God gave renewal and I was enlivened to continue the climb.
Armor-bearers come in many shapes and sizes. They are our families who sacrifice to support our climb; our pastors and mentors who become theological sounding boards and nurture us with their wisdom. They are our friends who endure our anxiety and let us cry on their shoulders. Armor-bearers are our colleagues and classmates who, in the middle of their climb, offer compassion and speak well-placed words of encouragement. They are our seminary professors and the administrative staff members who help us navigate the cracks and constantly remind us to be faithful to the One who is faithful to us.
I am confident that God is not restrained and that nothing can hinder God from saving by many or a few. But I am grateful that God chose to use many armor-bearers to help me climb this crag called seminary. This year, after seven long years of “crag-climbing,” with their invaluable help, I will graduate from Union Presbyterian Seminary.
KEN FUQUAY is curriculum director at Carolina School of Broadcasting in Charlotte and a recent graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary, certified ready for a call by the Presbytery of Charlotte.