“After the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).
The past few months have been filled with devastating events in nature. As much as our round-the-clock newscasts in North America cause us to think we are global citizens, in reality the decision-makers in the media overemphasize events that spike their ratings and ignore events that decrease their ratings.
We were in Israel again this summer, and our friends in Palestine are suffering from another year of serious drought. Our friend has lost too many fruit-bearing trees. There is a water crisis. I’ll bet you did not know that.
While we are being brought into the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma by live reporting, the devastating fires in British Columbia, Montana, and Oregon and a serious earthquake in Mexico are under-reported nationally. Those places are not highly populated, while Houston and Florida are. People are captivated as they await a hurricane-produced wave to suddenly sweep a reporter away or the wind to blow the reporter into the next county. Ratings drive news and perceptions.
I do not mean to diminish the element of human suffering. Certainly, people in all of these places have and are experiencing devastating loss. Please pray for them.
Political and religious opportunists are also quick to weigh in. Political pundits have suggested that Harvey was retribution for Texas voting for the American president. Climate change advocates have seized the opportunity for a “we told you so.” Religious zealots have suggested God is sending America a wakeup call for approving same-sex marriage and other gender-related decisions. Others suggest that it is time to be ready, because the end times are imminent. The voices of opportunists also create good ratings, so media are quick to print the stories from these political and religious fanatics.
I am most troubled by our brothers and sisters in Christ. I know that Jesus told us not to judge (Matthew 7), and so it is risky to appear critical. But it is right to reflect and discern. I am troubled that believers are so quick to use God to justify their own political, cultural, and social points of view. Some are creating God in their image.
Jesus teaches us that the greatest commands are to love God above all and to love our neighbor. He provided a parable of the good Samaritan to be sure that we got the point. Your neighbor should be interpreted to be the most unlovable person you can imagine (like a Samaritan to a Jew in the first century).
Still, serious questions remain for believers of all stripes. Where is God? Where is the wind of God when we pray that winds will blow and fires will change direction? Where is God when we pray that a cold front will move more quickly and hurricanes will turn harmlessly north away from population centers, and out into the Atlantic? Where is God when lingering droughts hurt the living stones in his Promised Land or in poverty-ravaged areas of the African continent?
About 2,800 years ago, the prophet Elijah lived. His story was a story of mountaintop and dark valley experiences. In 1 Kings 18-19, we read of both. Immediately after the mountaintop experience of Carmel, he ran more than 200 kilometers for his life. In his despair, he met his God at Sinai.
“The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave” (1 Kings 19: 11-13).
The Lord was not in the wind, the fire, or the earthquake. The Lord came to Elijah in a gentle whisper. Elijah recognized the Lord immediately and covered his face.
Then God told Elijah not to despair. Go back (yes, 200 kilometers), Elijah. There are 7,000 faithful people in Israel.
Disciples of Jesus are the hands, the face, and the feet of Jesus. We are called to be lights to the world. We are called to bring cups of cool water to the thirsty. We are called to be encouragers for Christ. Every time we leave Palestine, our friends plead, “Pray for us. Tell our story. That is what we need and what keeps us going!”
Where is God in the western North American fires? The quake in Mexico? The droughts in Palestine and Africa? The furious winds of Irma and floods of Harvey?
God is there when family risk personal safety in BC to rescue a parent in the path of the fires. God is there in the volunteer Cajun Navy. God is there when Samaritan’s Purse provides relief and World Renew mobilizes to help the hurting. God is there when Christian school communities seek ways to reach out in Jesus’ name to strangers far away. God is there when friends bring hope by telling the story of believers on the other side of the globe. God is there when believers do what Jesus would do.
When believers use the raging fires, ravaging winds, shaking earth, and damaging floods to advance their political views or religious dogma, is God there? Elijah discovered that God is not there. His image is not the frightful avenger.
When the fires, wind, earthquakes, and floods pass, is God there? Elijah discovered that God is the calm of hope after the storms of life. His image is a God of love. He shows up when his people act selflessly like Jesus. God shows up with believers bring hope to replace despair and help the hurting in the name of Jesus. When his disciples love like Jesus loved, the lights to the world shine brightest.
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services