Summary: Elijah mistakenly thought he was alone in his service to God.
Have you noticed that more and more people seem to be joining the “Ain't it Awful Club”? In fact, there are new chapters forming every day. Some gather in the neighborhood barber shop or beauty salon. Others meet at the community coffee house, the corner pub, or next to the water cooler at work. Sometimes they even meet at the church; in Sunday School classes, deacon assemblies, or gatherings of the women’s missionary circles. I imagine that if you listen carefully, you might even hear an occasional “ain’t it awful” session taking place in the Pastor’s Study.
What is an “ain’t it awful” session? It’s an occasion for people to whine and complain about life’s “terrible” state of affairs. In his book Games People Play, Eric Berne says that an “ain’t it awful” session provides people with an opportunity to engage in the sometimes cathartic act of hand-wringing and brow furrowing.
Of course, some subjects seem standard fair for an “ain’t it awful” gripe session.
“Can you believe those Washington Democrats? They’re spending away our children’s future. Ain’t it awful?”
“What about those Republicans, they are nothing but a bunch of obstructionists. The party of ‘no,’ that’s what they are! Ain’t it awful?”
“I’m worried about President Obama. I don’t even think he was born here. If he’s not the anti-Christ, I don’t know who is! Ain’t it awful?”
“It’s Sarah Palin who makes me nervous. She seems like evil on a broomstick, yet they say that she could be our next president! Ain’t it awful?”
Want to have some fun? Say any one of these statements at the next gathering of your friends or family, and watch what happens. The “ain’t it awful” game will be enjoined, nothing will be accomplished, and a good time will be had by all.
It’s not just national politics. Few subjects are off limits.
“Did you hear what that fellow over in Iran was saying about Israel? It sure seems like he’s itching for a fight. It might mean World War III. Ain’t it awful?”
“Can you believe that off-season trade the Redskins made to bring in another quarterback? And he’s an over-the-hill quarterback at that? Ain’t it awful?”
“My parents never listen to a single word I say and every time they talk it just turns into another lecture. Ain’t it awful?”
“Why can’t those kids learn how to pull up their pants and wear a belt? Ain’t it awful?”
“You know, the pastor passed me in the hall the other day and he didn’t even say ‘Hello.’ And did you see the tie he was wearing? Can you believe his wife let him walk out of the house looking like that? Ain’t it awful?”
Clergy play along, too. I heard this from a pastor friend in another state: “Our church secretary doesn't even know how to type. She spends the whole day sitting in the office taking personal phone calls while I am preparing the worship bulletin. I’d fire her, but her daddy is chairman of the personnel committee, a deacon, Sunday School Director, and our congregation’s biggest financial contributor.”
“Ain’t it awful?”
The laments go on and on, covering a broad range of topics. The aim is never to fix the problem. Rather the distress is expressed and satisfaction is gained by wringing a bit of sympathy out of the circumstance. Then you can come back a day later and do it all over again.
Sometimes, however, the “ain’t it awful” laments are much too intense to simply be spoken and put off to another day of complaining. Sometimes the challenges call into question our sense of identity, purpose, calling and mission. That’s what happened with the prophet Elijah.
Elijah was a big-time prophet, so great that “Jewish tradition places him side-by-side, shoulder-to- shoulder, with Moses, the Lawgiver.” Elijah had the courage to confront potentates about their sinful rebellion against Yahweh. He spoke with authority to his people, calling them back to the ways of Yahweh. He was so intimate with Yahweh that when he prayed, the Bible tells us that the dead were raised, fire was called down from the heavens, and nourishing rains came or departed at the command of his voice.
Elijah’s chief nemeses were King Ahab of Israel and his foreign born wife, Jezebel. Jezebel’s primary ambition was to “shove her religion down the throats of the Jews.” Her religion was the worship of Baal, a Canaanite god of fertility, harvest, produce, and sensuality. When Jezebel and Ahab married she made it her life’s aspiration to establish Baal as Israel’s primary deity. To accomplish her goal, she had temples erected all over the nation in Baal’s honor while systematically killing all the prophets of Yahweh.
What made matters worse was that the people refused to make a stand against this idolatry. In fact, they tried to have it both ways. They wanted to hold onto Baal with one hand and Yahweh with the other. They wanted the God of the Exodus on one side, and the god of crop insurance on the other. For Elijah, this was totally unacceptable. Elijah spoke to his people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”