Love Your Bible, but Watch Out! Reflections on 1 Kings 17:17-24

Elijah performs a kind of sympathetic magic act by stretching himself on the dead child three times (a typical element of folklore in the story) and demands that YHWH bring the child back from the dead. YHWH obliges the prophet who brings the living boy back to his mother. Elijah announces to her, "Look! Your son is alive" (1 Kgs. 17:23). And the widow in response to the miracle adds her final words that seal the theological mess we find ourselves wallowing in. "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of YHWH in your mouth is truth" (1 Kgs. 17:24). Because Elijah has brought the child back from death, he has proven himself to be a man of God and all he utters can be trusted to be true.

I do not think so. This story and the characters in it have not told truth about God at all. They have painted a picture of God that needs to be rejected completely. God is not in the business of finding ways of punishing human sin by slaughtering loved ones. Nor does God send messengers to announce such terrible claims. If God is like this, then I want no part in such a God or in such a way to view the world in which I live.

I wonder whether this view of God is not later in Elijah's own story called into question. When the prophet stands trembling in the cave on the top of the sacred mountain of Sinai, having run for his life from the promises of Jezebel to murder him for killing some of her own prophets, he witnesses the great acts of earthquake, wind, and fire. "But YHWH was not in" any of these. God shows up all right, but in "the sound of sheer silence" (1 Kgs. 19:12).

May this remarkable scene not suggest that our human attempts to box God into a simple reward/punishment nexus, to claim that we always know what God is about in our lives, need to cease?

God comes in silence, and listening for that silence is finally what gets Elijah closer to what God really has in store for his life. It is far past time for us to relinquish these antiquated and absurd notions about a God who rewards and punishes our human actions in directly cruel and sadistic ways. Down that road too many have gone, a road that leads only to needless pain and useless explanations about the difficulties of our human lives.

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6/2/2013 4:00:00 AM
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