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Despair and faith

He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, Lord," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." So he got up and ate and drank.

—1 Kings 19:4-7


This entry may be filled with things I've written before, yet I'd be foolish to ignore that my morning reading happens to be right here. Some truths bear repeating in times when they might bring hope and build faith.

Right or wrong, I have trouble trusting anyone who hasn't faced despair. Christians aren't exempt from my bias. I simply don't find in Scripture the caricatured, happy-clappy, roses and sunshine people of faith that portions of our culture sometimes says we ought to be in "victorious living." Sugar coating isn't joy, and suffering is a given— I can only imagine and shudder at the volume of rewriting required to remove this latter truth from the Bible.

People of faith aren't distinguished by their outstanding positive attitudes (though we can be rightly encouraged toward them). They are distinguished by their faith. Anyone who knows me knows I hate this kind of redundancy, but it really is that simple. After huge victory, Elijah smacks face-first into despair. He wants to die, so much that he prays for it.

But he prays. Can't imagine that was very pretty by the sanitized standards of today's church. I can certainly envision legions of well-groomed, Sunday-attending believers attacking him on the spot for his "faithlessness" if they overheard it: "Surely he is praying for the wrong thing, in the wrong way, with the wrong heart." But he prays, just before he practically collapses.

And God shows up.

First by an angel and in provision, then Himself at Mount Horeb, God shows up. This is a relationship between a man and his God. It's not a system of morals and beliefs, not a feel-good bandage or a set of answers to every question. The relationship is the core, and everything else is built on that.

One of the things that strikes me about the 1 Kings Elijah account is the time and again focus on how God literally feeds His prophet: by ravens in the Kerith Ravine, by a never-emptying jar and jug in the Zarephath widow's cupboards, and with angelically-delivered bread and water under the broom tree. This is God in the guts of raw humanity, paying careful and miraculous attention to the most basic and essential of needs. And yet Elijah knows despair in this context. That's being human, too, and it doesn't take God off guard.

Here too, God speaks, a mystery I don't pretend to grasp. Tempted to launch into another Christian culture critique, but I'm yet again in territory far beyond my understanding. Let the Word speak for itself:

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

—1 Kings 19:11-13

Comments

yeah, i know. people don't seem to accept the reality that Jesus suffered and dreaded things like being crucified. if i were being crucified, i imagine i'd cry like an especially weak baby. if you mean business with God you are asking for it.

people tell me my life should be easy. what are they talking about? God is not a genie.
Thank you.
amen!