Elijah is on the run. His life is in danger because he has been faithful to the ways of God and has faithfully proclaimed God’s messages, even though the people have responded violently. In 1 Kings 19, King Ahab’s wife Jezebel has sworn to kill Elijah because of his defeat and destruction of the prophets of Baal (1 Kgs 18). He escapes into the wilderness and wishes to die; his life is worthless, as far as he can tell. An angel of God comes to him and asks “What are you doing here?” He declares the tragedy of his situation (v. 10). He has been totally faithful to God but he has been rejected and mistreated, his message has been ignored, and now his life is at stake.
We might expect that the centerpiece of this story would be a powerful response from the Lord. But instead of offering comfort or promise, God comes near, accompanied by violent wind, earthquake, and fire. After all the ruckus, the voice of God simply asks the prophet again: “What are you doing here?” And Elijah, apparently unmoved by these dramatic events, repeats his answer, word for word (v. 14). Finally, God gives the prophet some instructions; the course of history is about to change. But God never comforts the prophet, or gives him a gold star for his faithfulness, or even reassures him that his life has been worthwhile and will be protected.
I wish the Bible’s narrators included stage directions, and adjectives to describe characters’ attitudes. When Elijah gives his speech to God for the second time, is he exhausted, his voice broken and raspy? Maybe he is resigned, sadly accepting his fate. Maybe he speaks under his breath, embarrassed, sensing that God has caught him in a moment of bad faith. Or maybe he is barely holding down anger, frustrated that God is right here but does not seem to be doing anything but asking pointless questions. You know what I’m doing here—why do you keep asking?
Whatever the prophet is feeling, Elijah’s second-verse-same-as-the-first response to God seems like a fact of life. Sometimes, like it or not, however close God is to us, our conditions haven’t changed. We have been as faithful as we know how, but the world is still the world. Our troubles are still our troubles. Whoever is out to get us is still out there. We may not feel comfort for the past or hope for the future. We may be tired, broken, sad, defeated, embarrassed, angry. All we can say to God, with honesty and humility, is: We are still HERE.
- Why do you think God asks Elijah the same question twice? (Or at all?)
- What does the Q&A between God and Elijah indicate about the relationship between them?
- How does Elijah experience God’s presence? God’s care? God’s promise for the future? Do you think Elijah experiences a challenge from God in this interaction?
- When you think about times of painful suffering in your own life, what difference does God’s presence make? Do you always experience comfort and hope when you feel God is near?
- Why do you think it is important that Elijah state why he is where he is? How does it help us to have a clear perspective on our own life situations? How does knowing the answer to “what are you doing here” help us to have an honest and humble relationship with God?
Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.wordpress.com.
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