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Saturday, November 14, 2009


Spent the last three days hunting deer on the farm where I grew up. It was good to be away, to decompress a little bit. Had a good friend along, got to visit with another good friend who lives up there, and spent a couple days staying with my brother. What a change of pace.

I spent some time while I was there thinking about Elijah. He's one of those people in the Bible that I ponder from time to time. I never quite know how to think about him. On the one hand he's lifted up as this amazing hero of faith -- he's one of two Old Testament characters who is with Jesus in his transfiguration. He singlehandedly stood up to the 400 priests of Baal. Amazing. But on the other hand, after his showdown with the priests of Baal Elijah is anything but admirable. He's kind of the patron saint of burnout. He goes into a depression, goes into hiding, sleeps a lot, and eventually God calls him out into the wilderness to the same mountain where God had given his people the covenant during the Exodus. Elijah hides there in a cave. He whines to God about how alone he is, how tough he's got it, and how nobody else has remained faithful to God. So God reveals his glory to Elijah, and he experiences all these wonders -- fire, storm, thunder -- but none of it moves him. Then God shows up in person in a still small voice -- my Hebrew prof in seminary translated the words "a crushing silence" -- and Elijah whines in exactly the same way he did at first. Even God revealing his glory doesn't overcome Elijah's depression.

So God decommissions him. God graciously tells Elijah to go anoint a successor for himself, and also to anoint God's chosen kings for all the surrounding kingdoms. "Oh, and by the way" God adds, "I have preserved for myself seven thousand people in Israel who have never worshipped Baal, who have remained faithful to me." You can read the whole story in the last few chapters of the book of 1 Kings.

I want Elijah to jump up and down, to be revitalized, to say, "Wow, God, you are truly amazing! I'm revitalized! I'm ready to go again!" But Elijah just trudges off, obedient but depressed, to anoint Elisha as his successor. He leaves it to Elisha to anoint all those kings for the surrounding kingdoms. Bah, humbug.

So I don't know quite how to think about Elijah. Maybe the message is that sometimes it's time to be done, to let go. I'm not there myself, not by any means. But I have been just tired enough that it was really, really good to go out in the wilderness and experience a little bit of crushing silence. To sit in treestands and hear leaves rustling. To sit so still that a red squirrel ran down the far side of the tree I was leaning against. To wait for a still, small voice, and maybe, just maybe, come back a little bit revitalized.

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