Huey's Ladder

As I write this chapter, Huey Lewis and the News hold the number one hit single in the country: "Jacob's Ladder," written by Bruce Hornsby. (By the time you read this, it will be history, but that's pop music.) The chorus goes:

Step by step

One by one

Higher and higher

Step by step

Rung by rung

Climbing Jacob's ladder.

   It sounds good, has a great guitar part, energetic beat, and makes me want to start climbing.

   It also reminds me of the little chorus we used to sing in Sunday school:

We are climbing Jacob's ladder,

We are climbing Jacob's ladder,

Page 161

We are climbing Jacob's ladder—

Soldiers of the cross.

   Christians should get pretty excited about this biblical image becoming a number one hit. I can see it now, the next Christian magazine to hit my doorstep will boldly proclaim: "Jacob's Ladder Climbs to the Top of Charts!"

   But hold it. What is Jacob's ladder all about? Why are we on it and where are we going? Give Huey some credit; he takes this thing further than we ever did in Sunday school.

   He tells us there's a fat preacher trying to sell him salvation, warning him about doom and gloom and asking for money to join his little band of saints. Huey doesn't want to be like the fat preacher and I don't blame him. I wouldn't either. But then he tells us instead that he doesn't need salvation; he's doing the best he can climbing up Jacob's ladder rung by rung. After all, he's "just another fallen angel trying to get through the night."

   Oh-oh. What's this about being a fallen angel? And what's the ladder all about? Sounds like it's Huey's salvation. I wonder if this was what Jacob had in mind.

   So I go back to the Sunday school version. Maybe it will shed some light on the subject. But sorry, no help here:

We are climbing Jacob's ladder,

We are climbing Jacob's ladder,

We are climbing Jacob's ladder . . .

Soldiers of the cross.

   Oh great! What on earth does being a soldier of the cross have to do with climbing a ladder? Who wrote this thing anyway and why didn't anyone tell me what it meant?

   Thoroughly befuddled, I get out my Bible and look up the Genesis (not the rock group) account and find out there were indeed angels on that ladder, but they weren't fallen. They were God's angels passing up and down on the ladder as God, who was standing above it, spoke promises to Jacob about being the father of a great nation, continuing the promise given to his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham.

   So! There weren't any people on the ladder at all. Never were. The ladder was for God's angels carrying out His work in the world.

Page 162

   Suddenly I realized there's something wrong with both songs. What are Huey Lewis, Bruce Hornsby, you or I, or our children doing on this ladder in the first place? According to Jacob's dream, none of us belong there.

   Suddenly I have a comic picture of God yelling down at us from the top, "Come on, you guys. Didn't you read the sign? 'Angels Only.' And what's with all the soldier getups? There's no battle up here. The battle's down there where you're supposed to be. Now get off this thing before I shake you all off!"

   The truth of the matter is, not one person is working his way up any ladder to God. Salvation is the only way for us to get there. The fat preacher was right but he's doing it in the wrong way (and it wouldn't hurt if he lost some weight, too). So why am I taking you through this whole process, anyway? To prove that you and I as Christians in the world have got to be awake and alert. That alertness is just as necessary in the church as it is outside of it.

   Truth and error are everywhere, but they're not going to pop up with labels attached. They have to be pursued, discovered, measured, and argued over just as I have done with this song.

   We are in an age that makes it easy to let culture or even Christianity wash over us. Jacob's ladder wasn't what Huey Lewis thinks it was, but it wasn't what my Sunday-school teacher thought it was either.

   It took the Word of God to square this thing away, and it's the Word of God that will enable us to cut below the surface of anything deep enough to get at what it means. In fact, the Word is a double-edged sword that "penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Every Christian possesses this penetrating sword and can cut deep into the heart of any matter to discern truth, but I fear most of us are stirring our gospel tea with it.

   Soldiers of the cross on ladders? No. It's time to get back on the ground where we were first placed. Ladders are for angels.

   "Oh, was that your hand I stepped on, Huey? I'm sorry. It's just that it's harder to get down off these things than it is to get up."

Chapter 47  ||  Table of Contents