Summary: Like Elijah, sometimes we feel utterly defeated (as I did by the shootings in Charleston and Chattanooga) but God remains with us through these times.
When I left on Sabbatical, I had Charleston on my mind. As I drove to North Carolina, it was on my mind. I tried to avoid newspapers and newscasts, but it was still on my mind. Through much of the Wild Goose Festival, we talked openly about violence and “isms.” I wasn’t home many days when Chattanooga was the scene of another tragedy – on the same day James Holmes was found guilty of the murders in Aurora. And USA TODAY put it into a perspective that none of us wanted to hear:
“In the three years since James Holmes shot dozens of moviegoers in Aurora…, 78 additional mass killings have occurred, claiming the lives of nearly 400 additional victims.
“That includes major public tragedies such as the slayings of 26 people… at a school in Newtown, the recent shootings of nine people in Charleston, and the Boston Marathon bombings. It also includes less-publicized tragedies, such as a deliberately set fire that killed six family members in McKeesport, in 2014 and the shootings of four young men on a downtown San Francisco street in January.
USA TODAY has kept a tally of mass killings …. The data show that mass killings occur roughly every two weeks, a figure that has remained steady for the past decade….”
My first response to that was “thank God it isn’t increasing,” and then I felt guilty for thinking that because the reality is that every one of those lives mattered and every one of those deaths was unnecessary. We ache to the depths of our souls (if we allow it) whenever we see and hear these stories. And there are so many of these stories, that we often put up walls so that we don’t have to hurt over them.
Even seemingly strong persons of God on the pinnacle of success face these feelings. Elijah was called by God to minister to the people of Israel, 900 years before Christ, the people of Israel were threatening to replace the true God with the pagan god Ba-al. Elijah had been called by God to stand in the gap to preserve the faith.
On Mount Carmel Elijah had faced 450 prophets of Ba-al in a duel to the finish. Each side had prepared a sacrifice to their G/god and then called on their G/god to send down fire to burn up the offering. The Prophets of Ba-al called on their god all morning, shouting and dancing wildly. Elijah, feeling very confident, mocked them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed. “Perhaps he is in deep thought or he is relieving himself or maybe he is away on a trip or he is asleep and needs to be awaked.” They shouted louder and, to show the strength of their commitment, they cut themselves, but no fire rained down.
Then Elijah prepared his offering. He piled wood on the altar and laid the bull upon it and then he soaked with water until the offering was sitting in a pool of water. And then Elijah walked up to the altar and prayed. Immediately the fire of God flashed down from heaven and burned up the bull, the wood, and the altar and the dust around it. The eyes of the crowd were opened. They seized the prophets of Ba-al and killed them. Elijah’s God - the one true living God - was victorious and everyone, not just Elijah, knew it clearly and completely.
Then Elijah outran horse drawn chariots to the capital city of Jezreel to spread the news of the victory. The only problem was the king and queen of the time were Ahab and Jezebel. King Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the God of Israel than all the kings before him. And Jezebel continues to be known as an evil wicked woman. She is the one who brought Ba-al worship to Israel. She was the real power behind the throne of terror and, when she heard what Elijah had done, she put out a contract on his life. And with that, Elijah’s adrenaline rush was gone. The man who had just been so confident in God’s power, ran away from everyone and everything.
One of the great dangers of depression is its tendency to turn one inward. Whether or not we have a diagnosis of depression, the fact is that, when we’re down, when we’re hurting, we tend to withdraw. This is precisely when we should be reaching out, and it is precisely when we’re often unable to do so. I think about all the well-meaning people who tell grieving families, “If you need anything, just call.” It’s a wonderful gesture but almost no one will pick up the phone to call. We all try to make it on our own. We may acknowledge our great faith community, but when “the rubber meets the road,” we go it alone.