By George Schrader
The days in which we are living have been trying, even for the most patient and optimistic among us, and we live in a setting in which it can be easy to fall into despair. All of us have been shaken from any sense that we might have had that we have things under control and, instead, find ourselves feeling to be at the mercy of powers we do not understand. Whether our struggles have been physical, emotional or spiritual, these can feel like dark times.
Of course, this is far from the first time that God’s people have faced such a period of darkness and despair. One such figure to break beneath the weight of the world, only to be shown a way to ultimately proclaim God’s glory, was the prophet Elijah. In the section immediately preceding the passage selected for this reflection, Elijah had won a great victory against the servants of Baal, demonstrating God’s power when his sacrifice was consumed by holy fire while Baal’s sacrifice grew cold on the mountaintop (1 Kings 18:20-36). Unfortunately, this demonstration made Elijah the target of the evil queen Jezebel’s wrath and she swore that Elijah would be put to death (1 Kings 19:2). Overtaken with fear, Elijah fled into the wilderness, where God met him, first through an angelic messenger, and next in the voice of God himself (1 Kings 19:3).
In reading this text, the first thing we should note is that God never asks the impossible of his servants. Knowing that Elijah is broken in mind and spirit, the Lord does not immediately give Elijah a command, but instead sends an angel to give the prophet food and water. The reason for this gift is made clear: “the journey is too great for you” (1 Kings 19:7 ESV). God is well aware of Elijah’s limitations, and does not demean or resent his weakness. Rather, he comes to Elijah in his weakness and provides for him so that Elijah might be strengthened to carry out God’s service.
In the same way, God equips each of us on our mission and along our journey, knowing that we are too weak to undertake the journey on our own. For this reason, Christ came into the world, and after he had risen to be with his Father, the Holy Spirit was sent at our baptism to be our comfort and guide (John 14:16-17). For this reason, the Holy Spirit constantly prays with us and for us, carrying our needs before the Father who knows our limitations even better than we ourselves (Rom. 8:26-27). No matter how evil the days, and even when we feel as though the task is too great, God never forgets our frailty and sets before us the strength we need, if we will but trust him to “arise and eat” (1 Kings 19:5 ESV).
Once Elijah has taken refuge in the mountains, God speaks again to him, asking what he is doing. After Elijah bewails his condition, saying that he is alone and hopeless due to his love of the Lord, God presents Elijah with signs of power, but ultimately speaks to him in a quiet voice. As the Lord and his prophet speak, it is important to note that God does not argue with Elijah or try to convince him that God is right. God responds with the simple command for Elijah to carry out his calling to proclaim the Word of God, just as he always has. However, this is not all. God reassures Elijah that he is not alone in his mission. After hearing Elijah say that he has been the only one to remain faithful to God, the Lord promises Elijah a helper, the prophet Elisha, and further tells him that thousands in Israel have also remained true to God’s Word in the midst of struggle.
For us, there are many days when it may seem as though we are struggling against all of the evil in the world alone, and it might even feel as though “I, even I only, am left” among the faithful witnesses (1 Kings 19:14 ESV). However, like Elijah, we are not standing alone in the world, but with a great host of those who have remained true to God. Beside the witness of faithful saints throughout the centuries, we also have those in the Church today to pray with us, strengthen us and assist us in our calling. It is for this reason that St. Paul said that the Church must “encourage one another and build one another up,” so that we might find strength from the whole body of Christ (1 Thess. 5:11 ESV).
In this dark time, we cannot help but to continue to follow Christ’s calling to serve God as his faithful witnesses in the world. Doing so may fill us with fear, for any of a multitude of reasons. We may even feel as though we stand alone. However, the story of Elijah in the wilderness helps show us that God is present with us, especially in our weakness, and strengthens us in all adversity. But, if we reach out to Christ in faith, we shall find his great sympathy for our fears, but also his reassurance that all that we truly need has been provided by our loving Father.
George Schrader is a third-year MDiv student at the North American Lutheran Seminary in Ambridge from Fremont, Ohio.