Formations lesson for Feb. 18: Between Prophet and God
February 2 2001 by Ken Vandergriff , 1 Kings 19:1-15

Formations lesson for Feb. 18: Between Prophet and God | Friday, Feb. 2, 2001

Friday, Feb. 2, 2001

Formations lesson for Feb. 18: Between Prophet and God

By Ken Vandergriff 1 Kings 19:1-15 There are times in our spiritual pilgrimages when God seems distant, hidden, silent. Prayers seem to fall to the floor with a dull, unanswered thud, Scripture fails to yield a word that speaks to our anguish, and inner restlessness leads to loneliness and despair. At times, there is the feeling that doubt will overwhelm faith. John of the Cross, a 16th century mystic, gave this feeling its classic name, "the dark night of the soul." Advice for coping with the dark night is too often shallow. Particularly annoying are those smugly pious persons who insist that if God is distant, it is our fault. If only we were "right with God," prayed hard enough, had enough faith, the dark night would disappear. Such an attitude is enshrined in the bumper-sticker dogma, "If God is distant, guess who moved?" The mature Christian, however, recognizes that things are not always so simple as that; sometimes neither God nor we have moved, but life has just overwhelmed us.

Today's text takes us into the dark night of Elijah's soul. His despair, depression and encounter with God offer insight into confronting our own dark nights.

Doubting (1 Kings 19:1-10) After his victory on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18), Elijah received Queen Jezebel's threat to his life. The Septuagint (Greek) version of the Old Testament translates her first statement in verse 2 as, "If you are Elijah, I am Jezebel." The threat of this ruthless, devious woman (see Kings 21) struck Elijah with fear.

The progression of Elijah's attitude is noteworthy. Fear produced despair, which produced depression, which produced loneliness, which led to suicidal thoughts. He fled Israel and ran South to the southern-most town in Judah. That was well beyond the jurisdiction of Jezebel and Ahab, but not sufficiently far to allay his fear, so he continued even further south, to Mt. Horeb, another name for Mt. Sinai.

There he engaged in a pity party. He defended himself, declaring that he had been "very zealous for the Lord, the God of Israel." But, he wondered, what good had it done him? His faithfulness brought death threats. Despair warped his sense of reality. "Israel has forsaken God's covenant," he complained, apparently forgetting Israel's affirmation of faith on Mt. Carmel (18:39). "I'm the only one left," he lamented, forgetting faithful ones like Obadiah and the prophets sheltered by him (18:4).

At times we all feel like Elijah. Situations overwhelm us, we feel like the world is against us, we're the only faithful one left, and we may as well give up. Fear and doubt overtake us in the dark night of the soul; it is healthy to remember that doubt is a normal part of faith. Faith and doubt are flip-sides of a single coin; as the early 20th century Spanish scholar Miguel de Unamuno expressed it, "Life is doubt, and faith without doubt is nothing but death. " Admitting that is more healthy than insisting that doubt is abnormal. The articulation of pain and doubt is the first step toward resolution.

Encountering God (1 Kings 19:11-14) In the midst of despair, Elijah encountered God. In the past, God had been in the wind (Ex.14:21-23; 15:8), in the earthquake (Judges 5:4-5), and in the fire (Ex. 3:2-3; 19:18; 1 Kings 18:38-39). Elijah expected God to be there again, but he wasn't. Instead, Elijah heard "a sound of sheer silence" (NRSV), a silence so tangible that it was audible.

For many in despair, this is enough. An encounter with God, whether dramatic or gentle, draws them out of doubt and reinvigorates them. The dark night of the soul passes.

Getting on (1 Kings 19:15) Elijah, however, was as morose after his encounter with God as before (see verses 10 and 14). Some people are like that; they want to wallow in self-pity while others soothe their fragile egos. There's some legitimacy in that, if it doesn't last too long. But there comes a time when we have to find a sense of purpose and do something. So God commanded, "Go, return." Enough feeling sorry. Doing something worthwhile, even when we don't feel like it, is a positive step out of the dark night.

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2/2/2001 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff , 1 Kings 19:1-15 | with 0 comments
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