Not far from my home in British Columbia, Canada, is the site of one of the great marvels of God's awesome creation — the sockeye salmon run in the Adams River. Every four years mature sockeye make their arduous 300-mile trip up the Fraser River, passing through the Thompson River and into Shuswap Lake by way of Little River. This leads to the Adams River, the spawning ground of between two million and three million salmon. Crowds of up to 300,000 people come to view this majestic, spectacular phenomenon of nature when it occurs. Some time ago I had the chance to witness it myself. What a sight! The fish pair off, male and female, in a seething mass of crimson bodies. The females, swollen with eggs, flail the gravel river bottom with their worn tails to create deep nests. When everything is ready, males deposit sperm, called milt, and the females their clusters of eggs in the nests. Together they bury the eggs with gravel. Soon afterward, after they have guarded the nests, the mature sockeye die, completing the cycle of life. Their bloated bodies float downstream and decompose, filling the air with a very disagreeable odor. The silent spectacle has an almost mystical aura about it. You can actually get a lump in your throat as you watch the bruised and battered salmon literally serving to their deaths.
An arduous journey
They have come a long way, overcoming many obstacles, and have endured to the end. They have fought the rapids, whirlpools, fallen logs, rock slides and pollutants from pulp mills. They have escaped the fishing fleets of two nations, which stalk them and reduce their population by up to 80 percent. They have escaped the native fishermen along the shores of the Fraser. They have found their way from the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean and swum 300 miles upstream, fighting the swift currents of the mighty Fraser, and had their bodies battered for 17 days as they continued their final migration — and all of this to lay down their own lives so that the next generation might receive theirs. One area the salmon have to pass through is called Hell's Gate, a turbulent, raging chute of water in the Fraser Canyon, 110 feet wide at its narrowest point. An average of 34 million gallons of water a minute rush through this narrow gorge. At times as much as 200 million gallons a minute have been recorded during runoffs, since water from 8,400 square miles of British Columbia has to drain off through this area. Back in 1913, a rock slide virtually blocked Hell's Gate and only a small number of salmon somehow managed to get through to spawn upriver. In 1946, manmade fishways were completed, after which the salmon population slowly began to increase to the preslide levels. Anyone who has stood on the viewing platforms over Hell's Gate has to admire the determination, strength and fortitude of the animated crimson arrows that leaped over this area without the aid of the fishways during the aftermath of the rock slide. Even with the fishways, it is a fantastic feat. The sockeye salmon run of the Adams River survived because a tiny minority of overcomers defeated seemingly insurmountable odds and made it to their destination so that future generations might live. There are many parallels of the sockeye salmon run to the Christian struggle. Let's look at some of them.
Our "Hell's Gate"
A Christian has to make it through the "Hell's Gate" and turbulence of this world to reach his final destination. God says, "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matt. 7:13-14). God's people have to exert violent effort to reach their God-given goal. Jesus stated, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matt. 11:12). Christians are promised an upstream swim (II Tim. 3:12, John 16:33). A Christian has to swim against currents polluted with immorality, escape the nets of materialism, resist the steady current of satanic influence and human nature and resist the whirlpools of negative peer pressure that constantly try to suck him under.
Tribulations along the way
Some of God's servants, just like the sockeye, have suffered much physical abuse in this colossal struggle. Read Acts 14:19-22, for instance, where Paul commented, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." Read in II Corinthians 11:23-33 or in II Corinthians 4:8-9 about the abuse Paul took. Yet he said: "We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." Read in Hebrews 11 about God's faithful people. They "through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.... Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. "They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented" (verses 33-37). God in His infinite mercy provides, along the way of life's struggles, occasional quiet pools where we can rest and gather strength for the next onslaught (Ps. 23:2-3). He even builds paths around our obstacles and problems for us (I Cor. 10:13). God knows that if enough don't overcome life's obstacles and endure until the end, future generations will die (Matt. 24:13, 22). God's master plan will be upset!
No turning back
Just as salmon hover over their fertilized nest of eggs and protect it from other fish, a Christian has to protect his mind, which has been fertilized by God's Spirit, from those who would shipwreck his faith and drown him in the perdition of ungodliness (Matt. 10:35-39,24:8-12, II Cor. 11:3-4, I Tim. 1:18-19). The strong currents that God's people swim against help build strong resolve and character. Jesus learned by what He suffered (Heb. 5:8). So do we. Paul agonized to bring his body into subjection (I Cor. 9:27). So do we. There is no turning back (Luke 9:62). A salmon wouldn't think of it. Neither can we. Great rewards lay in store, but these are still upstream, in the quiet waters of the Kingdom of God (Rev. 2:26, 3:21). Trials and tests have to come first — and we have to overcome them. The psalmist compared our struggle to that of mariners battling stormy oceans, and showed God's desire to help us: "They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. He calms the storm, so that its waves are still. Then they are glad because they are quiet; so He guides them to their desired haven" (Ps. 107:26-30). With God's help and with the navigational aids of His Word and His Church, all things are possible. We can make it through the "Hell's Gates" of this world into the placid waters of God's Kingdom (Rom. 8:16-23, 35-39)!