A Great Cloud of What?
- November 15, 2016
- Josh Godwin
The first time I remember seeing a mountain was a monumental moment for me…it was just so high that my brain couldn’t fathom how dirt and rocks could make something like it! Before I could even begin processing how mountains were possible we were at the top and it was a rainy day and you know where this is going because I was INSIDE THE CLOUDS! It was exhilarating and confusing and incredible all at once. I was surrounded by something I had only previously looked up at from the ground and wondered if they felt like cotton balls. But there I was, on top of something I didn’t think was possible while being surrounded by something I thought was unreachable. Childhood was an incredible time.
Every time I think about that moment, I’m reminded of this verse in Hebrews. When I was an undergrad, I took a class on the general epistles. “General Epistles” are the books in the back half of the New Testament not written by Paul except Revelation. That sounds like an oversimplified yet convoluted explanation, and it might be, but they’re the books like the John trilogy or the one Martin Luther thought was heresy (James). More often than not, Hebrews gets lumped into that category because it doesn’t really fit anywhere else. But that’s an explanation for another time, so we won’t dwell on it here.
The professor for that class, Dr. G. Byrns Coleman, was a man who had been at the university for almost 50 years and knew this subject matter like the fine wrinkles on the back of his weathered hands. There was always this one passage that he circled back to every time he could slip it in there. Towards the end of the book of Hebrews, the writer slips in this little nugget of wisdom to chew on: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,…” (Heb 12:1)
Isn’t that a strange image? Being surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” feels like a really weird way of saying, “Hey, a boatload of people have your back so good luck with all that!”
But isn’t being surrounded by a cloud different? Clouds completely encompass you on all sides until you become engulfed in it. Tiny droplets of vaporized water mass together to form this ethereal blanket that drapes around you completely. The writer of Hebrews chose the words very carefully. This collection of something that encourages us to persevere through life and run freely isn’t just a large mob of people; that would be more of a hindrance than a help. No, what we have as Christians is a completely encompassing gathering of spiritual presence from those who have gone on before us and are here now.
They support us, guide us, push us on and hold us back when the time is right. This “great cloud of witnesses” is constantly with us cheering us on to win the race before us. Our roads through life may sometimes look long ahead of us and the mountains may look too large to even comprehend, but you are never abandoned to walk your road completely alone. Rather, you are constantly surrounded by this great spiritual gathering that comes with being a part of the family of God!