In his book In the Face of God, Michael Horton recounts a childhood memory of attempting to run up the “down” escalator, and uses that image as a metaphor for what we as Christians still wrongly attempt to do in our lives of faith.
While we know that the only way to salvation is for God to come down to us through his Son, Jesus (the “down” escalator), Horton says, we still make attempts to get closer to God on our own through what Martin Luther called the ladders of mysticism, merit and speculation (the “up” escalator).
We climb the ladder of mysticism when we try to reach out to God through our own emotions or our individual reflection and meditation.
We climb the ladder of merit when we try to please God through our acts of kindness or goodness or charity.
We climb the ladder of speculation when we attempt to get close to God through our own knowledge, insight and intuition.
Collectively, these “up” escalators are known as the theology of glory, which falsely claims that we can attain God’s glory on our own terms.
The only way to salvation is the “down” escalator, known as the theology of the cross, which states that salvation can only come through the cross of Christ, who died in our stead to reunite us with God.
As Horton says, “It is, therefore, only in the cross where the despairing sinner finds relief from the curse and wrath of God. It is not by looking within, but by looking outside of oneself and one’s own experience, to the sight of Christ crucified, that the trembling heart can find peace with God” (In the Face of God, p. 83).
Through I know this to be true, I do find myself convicted of trying to go up the down escalator at times of doubt and uncertainly, at times of guilt and shame, at times of neediness and impatience.
Horton’s words remind me to let God be God and let him descend to me in the person of his Son, Jesus. Nothing else can lead me to him.
And I will never look at escalators the same way again.