What was Elijah’s problem? How many times did God have to rescue him, or use him to pull off some amazing event, for Elijah to get it through his head that, with God as his special companion, he did not have to be afraid of Jezebel or anyone else? What is with this running away to hide in a cave?
I think it has to do with how hard it is to confront the mind bending insanity of a chaotic world. Faith can sustain one for a time, but there come’s a point when, in the face of a tangle town of political, moral and social manipulation, it’s hard to navigate a reasonable course, even in companionship with God, or, for that matter, to be confident of God’s presence at all.
Getting away to a quiet place, a place of refuge, a place where it is possible to think, pray and commune with God is essential to maintaining one’s sanity in the face of the craziness that characterizes so much of what passes as civilization. Oddly enough, I think that there was something comforting in the earthquake, blazing fire, roaring wind, thundering storm, and the silence in which the still small voice could be heard. There was a sense of order in each of them. They made sense. Besides that, they existed for a season. They came and they went, and when they were gone, they were gone. In that time and space it was possible to make some sense out of his relationship with God and gain enough understanding about the work God had given him to go out and do it.
Elijah could not stay there. He had to reenter the cynical, manipulative insanity of the world of Ahab, Jezebel and all the other characters in the drama that surrounded them. That had not changed, but Elijah was ready to have at it again.
We also live in an Ahab and Jezebel world.
A few weeks ago I read Michael Lewis’ new book The Big Short in which he chronicled the rise and fall of the subprime mortgage fiasco, and the fortunes of a half dozen persons who saw it coming and made billions betting on it. It’s a story of arrogance, stupidity, avaricious greed, utter disregard for the common good, incompetence and ignorance all working at cross purposes that could only result in mutual self-destruction. It may be that Wall Street types played the role of Ahab and Jezebel, but the rest of us were not innocent bystanders. We egged them on, endorsed their work, bought their products and trusted them with our money. We, collectively, played the part of Naboth’s neighbors who were so easily persuaded to betray an honest man. I don’t think Lewis’ book was so much an indictment of Wall Street as it was an indictment of the banal greed of all the Main Streets one finds in a Sinclair Lewis novel.
A similar theme was followed with my next read, a highly recommended novel by Daniel Greenberg: Tech Transfer: Science, Money, Love and the Ivory Tower. I don’t recall who highly recommended it, but they have very low standards. It was advertised as a witty, yet informed, novel probing the incestuous relationships between university research and big business. It turned out to be populated entirely by characters of no discernible integrity whose lives overflowed with duplicity and fraud. In Greenberg’s world there is no honesty, only degrees of coverup so that those who can best disguise themselves have the best chance of winning whatever it is they are out to win. It’s only a novel, of course, but one written by a science journalist whose non-fiction works appear to follow the same path.
Both books displayed a disordered contemporary world in which ignorance, self-serving manipulation, disregard for the well being of the community, political opportunism, and enthusiastic falsification of truth are the normal patterns of life for great and small alike. It is Noah’s world, Elijah’s world, Luther’s world and our world. Just look around: Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, North Korea, Arizona, South Carolina, British Petroleum, McNeil Labs, Tea Parties, political advertising and media consultants, pharmaceutical advertising, and that’s just this week’s news. Included on that list is every you and me who sneeringly point at ‘them’ and ‘they.’ We, you and I, are the ones about whom Paul wrote when he said: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
It isn’t that our world is fallen or dark. It is that our world is sinfully chaotic driven by hundreds of millions of selfish decisions, including our own. No wonder Calvin went for a theocratic dictatorship or that Plato favored the absolute rule of a philosopher king. Both were terrible ideas, but they do show how the nuttiness of Marxism could be so attractive at first glance. They attempted to impose order on chaos. They failed for good reason. Whatever God is up to, it does not include the imposition of order on society by the self appointed, whether by good or evil intent, nor has God made any appointments himself.
Elijah, indeed scripture through and through, offers another way. It is the way of boldly entering the world as it is carrying the light of God’s presence to be shined in all places regardless of power or position. We who have taken the name of Christ are called on to learn from Elijah but not follow him. We are to follow Jesus Christ carrying with us a new kind of light: a light of healing, reconciliation, and godly justice. Like Elijah, we may sometimes feel overwhelmed by chaos and even lose our way, and like Elijah, we will have to seek refuge in communion with God to regain strength, energy and sense of purpose. In the end, it seems to me that we are not intended to live an orderly life of predictable equilibrium. We are intended, by God, to live in communities of communities in an improvised and ever changing perichoresis. We do not live that way now, but we Christians can approximate what that might look like in our own daily lives among those with whom we live, work and play. We Christian can, and sometimes we do. Just not often enough.
8 thoughts on “What Was Elijah’s Problem?”
I think that this must be the longest blog you have ever written! One time when I was preaching too long in the Unitarian Church, a prominent board member got up in the back row and told me quite bluntly that I was running over my allowed 20 minutes! Where did you get that word 'perichoresis'? My Websters Collegiate doesn't even list the word! \”Dancing around?\” By the way, \”still small voice\” is now obsolete; the New Revised Standard Version has decided that the Hebrew meant just \”total silence\”! (I still love 'still small voice' though). Dr B
Dr. B,Yep, it's a long one. Could have been longer. As for perichoresis, it's just my way of looking smarter than I am. I figure it's some sort of dental problem but it sure looks good in a sentence.CP
right now I am thinking that Elijah was simply burned out and needed vacation – wait, maybe I am thinking of me!good GTS grad – perichoresis comes naturally 🙂
I finally found 'perichoresis' my unabridged 1966 Websters. It's a very rare theological term trying to solve the dual nature of the Christ. It means \”rotation\”, that is, the divine and human natures taking turns. Probably from the Council of Chalcedon, which decided that Christ had both human and divine natures. The Monophysites disagreed: that he had only a divine nature! NO human nature! So the Copts of Egypt and some Armenians are not actually Orthodox (and also the Ethiopians).I am impressed that you used the word correctly! Dr B
Gee Dr. B., if you got your Ph.D. at General instead of Princeton you would not have needed the dictionary.CP
Yes, if I had the advantage of GTS in New York, I would have already known about perichoresis! About the prophet Elijah, though, I wanted to say that in the Greek Orthodox Church, where he called St. Elias, he is especially the one to pray to in violent windstorms, because of that weather passage in what Protestants call IKings, but is IIIKings in the Eastern Churches (and was also in Roman Catholic usage before Vatican II opened the gates to novelty and heresy!) Churches in Greece dedicated to him are often on hilltops, also, where formerly were temples to Zeus,who had that same job description–thunderstorms. Come to think of it, wasn't that also Jehovah's first habitat and job-mountaintops and thunderstorms?
Dr. B.,I never studied the Greek and Roman myths. My loss. But I stumbled on a 19th century book by E.M. Berens: \”Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome.\” I guess he wrote it for secondary school kids so it's been cleaned up quite a bit I suspect, but I'm enjoying it just the same. Did not know that the Greeks had a flood story complete with boat and survivors.CP
I hope you enjoy your reading in ancient mythology. That was one of my favorite subjects for teaching. I was not the only teacher, but we rotated (perichoresis) the teachers, and some taught it one way, as simple memorization, with multiple choice exams, so that the word got around that it was a very easy way to get some elective credit. Mine was not so easy, as I emphasized the connections with later literature (both classical literature and Modern), and also the original religious meaning. When enrolment came in the first day, there might be over 150 students, but that dropped dramatically after the first lecture. I got an insight when a few students told me why they dropped. Some did not like literature. One to two did not know that mythology was connected to religion, and they did not want to study any pagan religion, as they were fundamentalist Christians. All Muslims dropped for the same reason, and any Orthodox Jews! But above all, the course just did not seem to be a snap, easy course, not what they wanted (the coaches routinely sent their athletes in for easy credit, and were irritated at me when this was reported back!) Dr. B