“the still, small voice”

We talked about Elijah this last week with our students.  Elijah had quite a resume: stopped rain for 3 1/2 years, confronted a wicked king at risk of his own life, moved in with a family and they didn’t grocery shop for 3/12 years, raised that family’s son to life from the dead, challenged 450 false prophets to a “fire from heaven” contest (the prophetic version of a cage match), actually got fire to fall, went Jack Bauer on the 450 and killed them, after killing them, outran the king’s chariot to the city to get out of the rain, walked 40 days and 40 nights straight to meet with God on Mt. Sinai fueled by a single meal.

Yet, Elijah showed up in 1 Kings 19 to meet with God.  He explains his concern: I’ve tried really hard to get Israel to return to worshipping the True God, they aren’t, they’re killing those who do, and I’m pretty much the only one left.  In essence, he’s saying, “God, your plan isn’t working. I’m doing my part, but it’s not working.  And I’m the only you’ve got now.  and to think that you’d even allow my life to be threatened must mean you don’t get how important I am to this plan of yours.”

So God does two things.  First, He shows up.  This is the part of the story that gets a lot of press.  He calls Elijah out of the cave and says, “Get ready, I’m showing up.”  Then a cliff-shattering wind, earthquake and fire show up.  But the text says, “the LORD was not in” any of these.  These in fact were just the opening acts, to use a concert term.  Finally, Elijah can hear the voice of God.  The voice asks him to air his complaint again.  (Perhaps through this display of power, God is trying to remind Elijah that he’s got this under control.  Just his showing up sends shockwaves of wind and fire and earthquakes out as precursors.) Elijah airs his same complaint yet again.

–This is where most sermons about Elijah stop.  Elijah felt bad, he hears the “still, small voice of God”, and he doesn’t feel as bad and everything is ok.  And if you wait to hear that still, small voice today, you too can find comfort and not feel bad or depressed or whatever.  Unfortunately, while it may be an emotionally moving sermon, it has forgotten to read what the “still, small voice” actually says.  Internal fuzzies are not the point of this story.  Let’s go on.–

The second thing God does though is rarely contemplated.  Elijah, this great prophet, apparently still has an important lesson to learn.  God tells him to anoint a new king for Aram, a new king for Israel, and Elisha, a new prophet in his place.  Wait, a prophet in his place?  That’s right.  Those three will finish the job.  O, those three and the 7000 others who still worship me.   You think you’re the only option I have, Elijah?  That your worries are necessarily mine?  That I’m wringing my hands at the failure of Israel to repent and my only hope is you?  Sorry.  There are at least 7003 others I have.  One is even going to directly replace you.  You aren’t needed.

I’m not sure what comfort Elijah is supposed to take from this.  God’s response to his worries about the nation and his own life seems to be, “Don’t worry, I’ve got a replacement for you.”  The response seems to be, “Elijah, your mistake is that you think that I need you.  I don’t.”

It can be harsh to think of God in those terms.  He doesn’t need us: you, me, or anyone. Something about that very statement makes us feel small, perhaps neglected, perhaps unloved.  That’s the worst recruitment effort ever.  How many church committees and VBS staffs have been filled by passionate pleas aimed straight at people knowing how desperately we need them?  It’s nice to be needed.

But we aren’t.  If Elijah, rock star prophet, wasn’t, I’m certain that I’m not.  I went grocery shopping two days ago and cooked food in an oven.  I didn’t have a self-refilling pantry or a fire falling from the sky.

But deep down, as much as it may grate on our current notions of love and self-importance, we need to hear that we’re not needed.  We need to be humbled by the fact that we’re not all-star free agents God is trying to sign.  We need to be provoked into realizing that if we delay in our obedience to Christ, he doesn’t have to wait for us forever, he can find someone else.  We need to be invited in amazement by a God totally without need of us who yet gave Himself to redeem us and love us.

We need.  He doesn’t.  Creature meet Creator.

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