How crawling in a hole can help you regain perspective.
The (Brief) Story of Elijah the Prophet
The prophet Elijah is one of the foremost figures in the Hebrew Bible (or, what Christians call the Old Testament). He is introduced in 1 Kings 17, and we get absolutely no backstory on him… other than being called “the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead” (1 Kings 17:1).
He bursts onto the scene to tell King Ahab that there’s going to be a massive drought in the land. He relays the message, and heads out east of the Jordan where there is a brook and God says that the ravens are going to bring him food. This is how his ministry begins, and it’s one heck of a… whirlwind. Okay, that’s really funny if you know the rest of his story… if you don’t, read 2 Kings 2. Anyway…
In 1 Kings 18, Elijah has a face-off with the prophets of Baal, the Canaanite god, at a place called Mount Carmel. It’s a crazy story that’s full of trash talk, prayers, sacrifices and fire. The end result: Elijah has the prophets of Baal slaughtered. (Probably not the best move, but there’s no judgment or commentary on the action from the biblical writer outside of simply reporting that it happened.)
The queen did not take so kindly to Elijah’s actions. She was enraged with Elijah and swore that she would have him killed by that time the next day. So, Elijah does what just about any of us would do in such circumstances: he flees for his life.
He takes a day’s journey into the wilderness, sits down under a tree and says, “That’s it, God. I’m done. Take me now.” He falls asleep, is awakened by an angel that gives him some food. He sleeps some more, eats again, and then travels to Mount Horeb “in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights” (1 Kings 19:8).
The Desire to Get Away
In this story, we see something in Elijah that we have all felt from time to time: a desire to get away from it all. He is clearly at the end of his rope. There are some who suggest that he was suffering from severe depression at this point in his life.
He’s exhausted. He’s ready to give up. Having one of the most powerful people in the world wanting you dead is certainly something that can bring a person to that kind of mental state.
I can feel that right now.
Let’s face it, 2020 has been a very bad disaster movie to this point. There have been major national and world crises with climate issues, an out of control virus leading to a global pandemic, and, now, violence across the United States as people seek to de-legitimize peaceful protests.
People are being ugly to one another. People are allowing themselves to be guided by hate and fear. We are hearing almost every hour conflicting reports and interpretations of what has been going on right now. And it’s awful.
As a friend and colleague said on Facebook this morning, “All I want to do is crawl in a hole for a few days.”
What Are We to Do?
Tuesday is usually a big workday for me. The kids are in daycare. I have a standing meeting at noon. I can usually focus and work from about 9:00–4:00 with minimal breaks. I can usually get a whole lot done. Not today.
There is a ton of stuff that I need to work on. Our church is going to be having in-person worship in just a couple of weeks for the first time since the middle of March. There’s hymnals, pew Bibles and other pew items to get put away before we gather again to help prevent the potential spread of disease. There’s a template for a PowerPoint that needs to get put together. There are hymns to pick out, people to call, meetings to be had, things to record. On top of all that, I have a sermon to write about how as followers of Jesus we are commanded to “take up your cross, deny yourself and follow me.” On a normal week, there would be a lot to do, but this week is far from normal… and, as I write this, it’s only Tuesday.
As if things in the nation aren’t bad enough already, I have to write this sermon the day after people who were peacefully and lawfully gathered were tear-gassed and moved off the street so that the president can stand in front of a church, wave a Bible in the air, get his picture taken with it, and talk about how he’s going to call on the military to put an end to these protests. And, yes, I know there are reports saying that tear gas wasn’t used. There are also first-hand accounts from people that were moved off the street saying there was more than just smoke in the air; there were irritants in the smoke.
I did a little experiment this morning. I checked out the websites for both CNN and Fox News. Not surprisingly, they were reporting two very different things. In fact, the major stories that were highlighted on the two pages would make a person think that they weren’t even reporting on the same day’s events. CNN is focused on the response to the president’s “photo op” in front of the church. Fox is focused on the destruction and rioting that is taking place, with barely a mention of what happened in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
After that experiment, I went over to Twitter to get some more perspective. Big mistake. By the time I was logging into my meeting at noon, all I wanted to do was crawl in a cave. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t do anything productive. I ate a cheeseburger and watched an episode of Rick & Morty.
Now, here I am, trying to process my thoughts.
The Still, Small Voice
In Elijah’s story, he gets to the cave and has a conversation with the Lord. He thinks he’s alone. He thinks he’s the only one trying to do the right thing. He’s not. But that’s what exhaustion does. It isolates us. It makes us think that there’s no hope for the future.
God calls Elijah out of the cave. The prophet is told to “go out and stand before the Lord” (1 Kings 19:11). And that’s what he does. He hears the wind, an earthquake and a great fire pass by, but each time, he knows that the Lord is not in them. But, finally, he hears a still, small voice, a “low whisper,” and that’s when he covers his face and goes to stand in the Lord’s presence. H hears the voice of God, is given a new perspective on life, and gets renewed.
The world is raging right now. There are fires — but it’s the fires of agitators who want to silence the voice of the oppressed. The great winds are blowing — but it’s the winds of the violent, blowing tear gas in the eyes of the people. The earth shakes — but it’s the marching of boots. That’s not where the Lord’s voice is. The president wants to put forth a show of strength. He wants his military parade to pass before him to silence the voices calling out for much-needed and long-overdue change. He wants to bluster about the use of force at his command as the Commander in Chief. And he wants to hold up the Bible to make people think that somehow what he is saying is legitimized, when the words of that very same book are antithetical to his own. No, this isn’t where the voice of God is going to be heard, my friends.
The voice of God is in the quiet. It’s in the reflective moments. That’s where real change is going to take place.
The Foggy Road
The road ahead is uncertain. It’s foggy, and that may just be the tear gas, but one way or another, what happens next is anybody’s guess. Will there be lasting change? I hope so.
The truth of the matter is that I’m a white, middle-aged, heterosexual, Christian male. I don’t have firsthand experience of the issues facing many people in our nation today. I grew up in the suburbs of Indianapolis — far enough away from the “bad” parts of town that I never really had to think about it. I can empathize. I can listen. I can lend my support. I can highlight the voices that need to be heard. But, for the most part, I feel helpless. I feel like there isn’t a whole lot I can do.
And so, I sit in my office. I process my thoughts for you to read. And I pray.
I pray that we can change the conversation in our country so that something like this never happens again.
I pray for police officers throughout the country to be able to handle conflict in non-violent ways so that another unarmed, innocent person doesn’t have to die.
I pray that those who are more outraged by the damage to property than the loss of life would be able to look at the world differently and see how important people are — regardless of their race or creed.
I pray that those who want to shout “All lives matter” when something like this happens would realize how dismissive they are being towards people who feel silenced and oppressed.
I pray that good, decent people will guide the national conversation to effect lasting change.
I pray that the agitators, the ones who incite hate and violence, the ones who feed off of it and desire more would be silenced by a change in their hearts.
And, finally, I pray that God will bring a renewal of hope, joy and peace to this nation and to the world.
In those times when you want to crawl into a cave to get away from it all. Do it. Take some time to live in the silence. Take a nap. Have some bread. And be renewed for the next step that God has for you.