Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Sound of Silence

If you have ever heard or read the story of the prophet, Elijah, you may remember that, at one point, he was on the run and in fear for his life from the evil Jezebel. Elijah was literally running for his life; there was a price on his head. 

I have heard Elijah's story told like the religious version of a Nora Ephron film, where, after many fits and starts, Elijah has this romanticized moment of closeness with God that turns the whole thing into a happily ever after tale. Forgive me, but I am impatient with these kinds of interpretations of Elijah's story. 

First of all, he wasn't running like Chicken Little and crying that the sky was falling. Jezebel really wanted to have Elijah murdered! Second of all, it's all well and good to give messages on what a more brave and faithful Elijah would have/should have done, but the humanness of Elijah's story really ought to help us relate to the franticness of knowing that a life was truly in jeopardy. But, for me, Elijah's encounters with God are too neatly tied up by most people who discuss his mountain top revelation.

God had been asking Elijah, "What are you doing here?" and I am sure it wasn't because He didn't know what was on Elijah's mind. I sort of imagine it as God's way of getting Elijah to think beyond the immediacy of his circumstances. I can almost hear God saying, "Um...Elijah, not for nothin' but...did it ever occur to you that you are not where you belong? That you're not doing the work I have called you to do? Hmmm...?"

So by the time Elijah goes up to the mountain and experiences the drama and dangers of the wind, the earthquake, and the fire he was probably FINALLY beginning to wonder what it was that God had in mind...what God wanted him to do. Scripture goes on to tell us that God was not in any of the violent weather, but was finally revealed in a "a gentle blowing" sometimes referred to as a whisper, or "a still small voice."And yet even after that God still asked Elijah what he was doing there. That suggests to me that the still small voice was probably a supernatural breath into what was otherwise a deafening silence for Elijah.

My friends, profound grief comes with much legitimate fear. In grief we learn just how much we can lose, how cruelly and suddenly we can lose it, and how quickly the world seems to go on despite our agony. There's a reason people struggle to comfort the bereaved. Grievous events and situations are thieves of words and crushers of our explanatory powers. We cannot get our minds around the catalysts of grief because they are both entirely normal within the human experience, and yet entirely personal to us as individuals.

Can you imagine all the on-lookers and Jesus' mother, friends, family, and followers after it was clear that he was dead? Imagine the theatrics and then the equivalent of an announcer saying, "That's it folks. Show's Over. Everybody go home. Jesus has left the building." It's like that as we experience grief. 

In the midst of the dramas that lead up to our grief, we are asking God, "what am I doing here?" and expecting some grand response from on high. But for a time the answer may be nothing more than a whisper of wind and silence. In the vortex of pain and suffering that follows our traumas and opens the portals of grief, we too go silent for a time, and only occasionally ask what it is that God expects us to do with our suffering. We want to repeat our list sorrows to God. Yet our gentle Father in Heaven continues to ask us, "What are you doing here?" Dear ones, my sense is that God means to tell us that we cannot pitch our tents in the wilderness of grief and expect mountain top revelations akin to Moses' encounter where he received the 10 commandments and chiseled them on the tablets.

In fact, more often than not God will send us back to our lives to continue His work as before, only wiser and with greater reverence, humility, and obedience before Him. That is certainly true of Elijah. And in one way or another it is inevitably what God has in mind for us. Job did not remain in sackcloth and ashes. He got up, scarified, prayed, and went about the business of starting a new family...knowing well that it could all be stripped away again without explanation. Ezekiel was not even allowed to grieve the death of his wife. Jonah was put right back on task.

Maybe the reason the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds is because He has work for them to do that requires their prayers of repentance, their acts of sacrifice, their commitment to the calling God placed on their sum, their trust and obedience.

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