This is one of the great moments in the Hebrew Testament. And it happened to one of the greatest of the old prophets, Elijah. But its message is surprisingly true for us today as well.
Elijah, whose name means, ʺThe Lord is my God,ʺ is on the run. He is pursued by Ahab and Jezebel. He has found his way to a cave out in the desert mountains where he hopes to hide from his pursuers. He is afraid, and even though he has stood up for God before, he is having a moment of doubt. He is afraid for his life and he has let his fear control his actions at the moment. You see, even the great prophet is a man. He, too, could be overcome with the fears of the moment. But God was not done with him yet. Elijah heard the Lord ask him, ʺWhat are you doing here?ʺ Elijah responds with a kind of self-pitying defense saying, ʺI have been zealous for the Lord, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. They have destroyed your altars and murdered your prophets by the sword. I alone remain, and they seek to take my life.ʺ (1 Kings 19: 10) Then the Lord tells Elijah to go out to the mouth of the cave and ʺstand before the Lord.ʺ This phrase is a literal translation of a Hebrew idiom meaning ʺto serve the Lord.ʺ What God is telling Elijah is to get back into the saddle and to continue the duties the Lord has commissioned him to do. The Lord’s question to Elijah, ʺWhy are you here?ʺ may be understood as an accusation that Elijah is, in essence, abandoning his post.
Elijah goes out and stands on the mountain and he hears a great wind rending the very rocks of the mountain. Then he feels the earth trembling in an earthquake, then he sees a fire, but the Lord was not in any of these profoundly powerful things. How many times have we looked for some great sign from the Lord for encouragement, or as a proof of an answer to our prayers? But God was not in these things. It was then that Elijah was stunned by the near presence of God’s majesty: ʺAnd after the fire came a gentle whisper.ʺ (1 Kings 19: 12) At the sound of that still, small whisper, Elijah covered his face and went to the mouth of the cave where he hears the Lord’s question again, ʺWhy are you here, Elijah?ʺ Then the Lord tells him, ʺGo back!ʺ The Lord gives him his orders to go back and to anoint new kings for Aram and for Israel, and Elisha, to be his successor. You see, God’s mission is more important than our personal fears, both our petty fears and the great fear we often have for our own life. But the truth here, too, is that we are not abandoned by God. He is still with us, especially when the dangers are great.
Elijah was living in a time of apostasy. The rulers and the people had abandoned thoughts of God and were caught up in the maelstrom of immediate gratification. Sound familiar? It should, because we are living in a very similar environment today with the influences of relativism and the deified ego. The world is chaotic as a result. We hear every day of new examples of unthinkable, irrational violence being done by human beings toward other human beings across the globe and down the street in our own towns and cities. All of this can cause great fear in us for our society, for our country and for ourselves. If one were superstitious, one would think that the end is near. But the truth is that we have been living in the end times since the moment of the Resurrection. Living in the end times, though, does not free us from the duties that God has given us.
Just as Elijah in this passage from the first book of Kings, we too are being challenged by God to come out from our hiding places. Yes, the times are troubling and fearful, and we are tempted to do whatever we can to stay ʺsafeʺ in the midst of the madness, but God is trying to tell us that that is all the more reason for us to ʺGo back!ʺ No matter how crazy and corrupted the times may be, we are still commissioned to go out into the world and to serve it joyfully, confidently knowing that God is with us. When we were baptised, God entered us. We were made into Temples of the Holy Spirit. In truth, then, it is through us that God enters the world today. We take him into the world through our faithful service to the wounded world. God wants to use us, like Elijah, to bring the world back to God through the challenge of our Christian lives lived confidently, and daily. If we do this in faith, and in his name, we will never be alone. You see, even in the end times, God wants us to be the evidence of his presence, his love and his forgiveness to the tortured and writhing world. Our job, our faithful service to the Lord, like Elijah’s, is never done.
Let us daily hear the Lord’s question to us personally, ʺWhy are you here?ʺ Let us answer his question by accepting his challenge to rise above our fears and to, ʺGo backʺ into this tortured world every day to humbly, faithfully, and joyfully serve him. He wants us, like Elijah, to bring his message of love and mercy to our wounded and suffering brothers and sisters, by living our lives in his name publicly. Though the world looks like hell, there is an undefeatable Beauty that remains within it. We are the children, the living servants of that Beauty. It is our job to reveal it again and again in and through our courageous daily acts of faith, hope and love. Lord, strengthen us. Be our daily bread. Let us be your instruments of peace in this tortured world. Amen.SKM: below-content placeholder