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'The Earth Cries Out Unto God': Defeating Addiction, Finding God's Goodness on the Mountain

For Kent Johnson, mountain climbing has been more than just a dangerous hobby. It's also been a lifeline.
For Kent Johnson, mountain climbing has been more than just a dangerous hobby. It's also been a lifeline.

Mountain climbing is one of the most dangerous activities in the world. The risks of injury or death are high, and even experienced climbers can be caught off guard by the elements. But for Kent Johnson, mountain climbing has been more than just a dangerous hobby. It's also been a lifeline, helping him to overcome a mountain of addiction.

Johnson is a certified mountaineer and rock climber in California, just outside Yosemite National Park – which is seen as a top rock-climbing area in America. The valley offers death-defying routes with views that marvel. 

For Johnson, an experienced climber for 32 years, Yosemite has become more of a sanctuary and place of healing, allowing him to grow in his faith one careful step at a time. 

"The Bible says the Earth cries out unto God – that the stones cry out," Johnson told CBN News.

He comes to this national park often to exercise and conquer new climbing routes for fun. He explains how adventure on a mountain helps him escape the daily grind. 

"The pulse of the Earth is different than what you may have on your phone, TV, or in the city – it's healing," Johnson said.  

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The mountains, however, can be unforgiving. The day before CBN arrived for this story – an accident claimed the life of another climber. Between 12-15 deaths happen in Yosemite each year, mainly due to slips and falls. 

"Safety is an illusion, I think," said Johnson's climbing partner, Eric Hagan. "It's really easy to make a mistake when you're climbing if you're not methodical. So, you have to check yourself and also check your partner." 

Hagan has climbed for more than 30 years, learning his craft by Johnson's example. The two are spiritual outliers in a sport that some believe is dominated by agnosticism and atheism. 

"There's definitely a lot of macho culture around these kinds of activities and I think people when they become good at something put a lot of faith in themselves," he said. 

Johnson's journey to that kind of faith, however, began with him at rock bottom. Addiction became his first major mountain to overcome. 

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"In high school, I played soccer and partied a lot – ended up going to university in Indiana. I was arrested for being drunk and disorderly – and I had various addictions at the time," Johnson explained. "At the time, I was in deep rebellion in my life." 

Johnson's life choices landed him in a drug recovery center in Montana. During rehabilitation, he fell in love with nature, learned about clean living and how to take responsibility for his life. 

"For me, I had to figure out what the purpose of my life was," said Johnson. "And I got to a point, a crossroads – and I realized I believe there's a God in the Universe. I believe it's Jesus Christ, I'm not running anymore." 

Johnson traded his addictions for the thrill of the mountain, which helped him climb in his faith and make mountaineering a career. Life took him and the love of his life, Fern, to California where they started a family. 

"Having faith in Christ is critical to me – living a life in wisdom – and obviously I used the wilderness as inspiration to continue on when I go through those struggles," said Johnson. "And I also go to the Word."

Over time, life led Johnson and his climbing partner Hagan down separate paths. While Eric also started a family and became a school principal, he secretly wrestled with God over a deep childhood trauma. 

"I could see God forgive this person who did this horrible thing to me as a child – but I don't think I accepted that same forgiveness in my own life," Hagan said. "That was a transformative piece."

CBN News witnessed Johnson and Hagan's 20-year reunion – climbing Bishop's Terrace in Yosemite. Despite life's long and sometimes challenging ascent, they both relied on God to get them through it. 

"That's why I love climbing because it's like a small metaphor of life," Johnson said. 

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