"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." ~ 1 Peter 3:15-16

The Irreligious God

Some time back during one of the gatherings, a brother was teaching and sharing with us on the life of Elijah. As the brother is a missionary to India, the sharing was sprinkled with life experience and testimonies of real situations. Below is an expanded version that is part of the sharing that the brother expounded using the life of Elijah.

In 1 Kings 17:1, we read that the prophet Elijah boldly declared a prolonged drought to king Ahab, which cannot be undone except by Elijah’s own word. How cool can that be? While it is not entirely clear whether the announcement was sanctioned by God, it was a bold statement to be made to the king or prime minister of the day. We could barely visualise how Ahab’s face would look like when he heard Elijah. By reading this verse alone, we could say that Elijah had a grand entrance to the hall of biblical fame, and one can probably expect more adrenaline-rushed events to take place after this verse, such as a cinematic clash between Elijah and the king’s royal forces with state of the art special effects.

But in 1 Kings 17:2, God commanded Elijah to run away and hide! It is an abrupt change of direction from the preceding introduction of Elijah. This is just not how we write scripts for novels or films, or expect to see, unless it’s a flashback technique perhaps. Who in the right mind will blast off with a big bang and hold back the horses at the same time? And it seems that from this moment onwards, even Obadiah had a difficult time convincing himself that Elijah had ceased his escapist hobby (1 Kings 18:9-14). What a dramatic turn of event!

And it was told to Elijah that he would drink from the brook and feast on the food supplied by ravens. If providing a brook for Elijah in the context of a prolonged drought does not amaze you, Disney-trained ravens probably will. Where else would you see ravens feeding human (no pun intended)? To make matter worse, the ravens were declared as unclean (Deut 14:14, Lev 11:15). Got it? They are unclean. Elijah, being an Israelite who understood ravens to be unclean, had to come to terms with the unclean birds supplying him food, under the direct commandments of God. I figure that Elijah’s face would not be too different from Ahab’s face. Elijah either had to conclude that the words were not from God, or leave his religious logics and perspectives at the altar and follow God without arguments.

It would have been a side episode in a long serial, if Elijah came out of hiding after this. But the brook dried up because of the drought. Did it come to Elijah as a surprise? Probably, because God had already given the brook to Elijah earlier. So did He change His mind or turn back His word? Shouldn’t the brook be the only blessed place overflowing with abundant water amidst the drought? After all, even the ravens were at His service. Surely, it wouldn’t be too difficult for God to perform such small acts. These must be playing in Elijah’s mind many times before the word of the Lord came to him to go to a gentile district (1 Kings 17:9). And there, from unclean birds to unclean gentiles. Shouldn’t Elijah take refuge in the homes of some faithful Israelites who did not bow before Baal, instead of taking refuge in the home of gentiles? It takes more than Windows 9 or OS X Mavericks to process the logics of God (Isa 55:8-9).

To complicate matters, God told Elijah that He orchestrated a widow there to supply him with food. I am not sure of your cultural context, but even within a more liberated cultural context like mine, people generally do not approve a man, who is a total stranger, to come under the roof of a widow. It speaks negatively about the widow’s reputation and her chastity, if not the man’s reputation for taking advantage and living off a widow. Even worse if the man claimed to be God-directed when the widow had already indicated that she planned to die with her son after their last meal. The police will probably classify it under cheating cases. And what’s more, the widow can be considered as one among the lowest social economic status back in the biblical days of Elijah. It can be akin to living off beggars or those who require financial assistance. Nevertheless, the widow’s faith is to be commended and indeed it is hard for the rich to enter heaven (Matt 19:23).

Until this point, it must be really hard for Elijah to reason and obey God. But both Elijah and the widow reaped a huge investment gain in the form of a jar of flour and jug of oil, infinite versions. It does pay off to obey God. Imagine the amount of money they could make by selling all those flour and oil! But the tragedy came as swiftly as the magical jar and jug appeared. The widow’s son contracted an illness so severe that he died (1 Kings 17:17). Surely, this is not the approach to evangelism and discipleship making. Elijah could have asked the widow to bring out the miracle jar and jug for display to the townsfolk. The widow could have given a testimony before Elijah fired off a sermon and finished with an altar call. And then Elijah could have setup a church and start bible study programs. No matter what, God forbids the son dying, leaving Elijah's credentials subjected to questionings. In fact, we read in 1 Kings 17:20 that Elijah had his share of doubts and he cried out to the Lord. It is not easy at that moment to understand the ways of God. If God will to lay out his cards and provide a detailed brief on His strategies and a glimpse into the future outcome, anybody can be a willing candidate to play the role of Elijah. But He is looking for those who walk by faith, just as the righteous shall live by faith (Heb 10:38).

For Elijah to obey God, he must have laid down every preconceived belief, preference and reasoning. The spirit of religiosity must be laid down, to allow the Spirit of God to move freely. If there is any spirit, it has to be His Spirit. To be able to think that God would use the unclean to support the supposedly clean, is clearly a leap beyond the boundary of the cherished religious traditions of the day. Even today, are we holding on to our pet doctrines and preferences regarding the non-essentials of the faith? Do we feel challenged when these beliefs are threatened? Are we upset when God interrupted our well thought out or implemented life plans? The thought of an irreligious God would probably unravel some to an uncomfortable state. For it is the human inclination to have something more predictable and repeatable. We are indeed creatures of habits.

However, most of the time we could only see the hand of God when we look back into history. If we have not obeyed at the specific moments, we would not be able to tell what could otherwise have been, not as though we could go travel back to the past to make changes. So it requires faith to put our trust in God when we cannot see the road ahead. It requires faith before we raise the knife to slaughter Isaac (Gen 22:10). And it requires faith to confront Pharaoh and leave Egypt (Exo 3:10). No wonder Elijah has the privilege of the cinematic departure with fire chariots, horses and whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11) and re-entrance with special lighting effect (Matt 17:3). Do we then have the faith to lay down all our plans and reasonings, and follow the irreligious God as we hear Him speaks to us?