Thursday, October 1, 2009

Elijah

(In case this is of any interest to the readers of this blog, I stumbled upon something by accident.  If you scroll all the way down and click on the music video at the end, the song will last all most exactly as long as it takes to read this post.  Funky!  I think it makes for some great background music.  Ta da!) 


     I suffer from Depression.  Not a very serious form, but I do get it from time to time.  Usually about 2-3 times a year.  I've been in a spell since this past Sunday.  I'm finally coming out of it today.  I got it checked out a few years ago and apparently I have some type of Zinc deficiency and something else that I can't pronounce, let alone spell.
     When it hits me, it isn't all that much fun.  Some times it will be all I can do to simply get out of bed.  There is nothing rational about it.  I know in my head that what I am feeling is just plain stupid & wrong.  I know that I have plenty of good things going for me.  I have awesome parents and friends.  I also know that there are so many more awful things that could come my way, and that I ought to be thankful.  Still, when it hits me, it hits me hard.  It feels like a weight on my shoulders pushing me down.  It makes no sense at all, but like I said there is nothing rational about it.
     My dad says that he noticed it when I was a little kid.  From time to time I would just go into a funk for a few days.  I didn't really notice it until I was going to Bethel Seminary.  For about a week I was simply miserable, and I had no idea why.  About 10 years ago I had some blood work done and the medical folks explained the whole thing to me.
     (No, I don't do meds.  I watch what I eat, and when it hits me I just ride it out for a few days.   Like I said, it isn't a huge issue for me.  I have a couple of friends who really have it tough in this area.  Trust me, mine could be a whole lot worse.)
     Strange thing about depression, apparently it gives you a great sense of humor.  Most of the good comedians out there also suffer from it.  Jim Carrey & Drew Carey both have it.  Drew Carey attempted suicide once because of it, and he is incredibly funny.  I've been told that I am very funny, and I don't just mean in the way that I look.  I love a good joke and the whole art of how to tell one. (The Aristocrats is an incredibly hysterical movie, but also very vulgar.  But if you want to learn how to tell a joke, watch it.) So it's nice to know that I am in good company.  I suppose that humor is a way of dealing with depression.
     The other strange thing about depression is that you tend to listen to sad music.  The singer, Rickie Lee Jones once said that when you are feeling down you don't want to listen to happy music.  Instead, you listen to sad songs.  For some reason sad music cheers you up.  Maybe it's a way of finding some type of companionship when you struggle.
     
     I'm not suicidal, but I do have a Death Wish.  Yeah, I'll be honest about that.  I very often have that wish.  I doubt I could ever kill myself because of all of the damage it would do to my friends and family.  I think it would be a very selfish act on my part.  However, there are days where I ask God to take me home.  I nice heart attack in my sleep would be ideal.  I'm not afraid to die.  I just don't want it to be painful.  
     Pastor Scott has told me that instead of wishing for a quick & painless death, he says that I should just repeat the mantra of "Come, Lord Jesus.  Come," like John did at the end of Revelation.  So now I find myself saying that a lot...especially over the last few days.  It will be so nice when he returns and we can all get out of this, shall we say Less-than-perfect, world.  I can't wait to be in heaven and to finally be at peace and to have perfect understanding of why everything that happened had to happen.  I also want to go fishing with Jesus and have him tell me jokes until root beer shoots out of my nose.  

     In the book of First Kings there is a story about Elijah.  In it, he challenged King Ahab and the Prophets of Ba'al to a show down on Mt. Carmel.  It's an amazing story.  I won't go into it all, but you can look it up in chapter 18.  Suffice it to say that YHWH (God's personal name) delivers a knock-out blow to the false god Ba'al.  Elijah stands triumphant in front of Israel.  What is often lost in this story is what happens right after this great victory.
     When King Ahab goes back to his palace, he tells his queen what has happened and how God and Elijah defeated the Prophets of Ba'al.  Queen Jezebel puts a hit out on Elijah and tells him of it.  Elijah is so scared that he runs away to Mt. Horeb (Also known as Mt. Sinai) all the way down in the Sinai peninsula.  
     Elijah makes it all the way to Beersheba and leaves his servant there, heading off into the desert.  I've been to this area and it is very desolate.  Beersheba is the last town of any consequence in Israel.  After that, it is all sand until you get to the rocky, dry wilderness of Sinai.
     Elijah finally collapses under a little tree.  Then something interesting happens.  He prays that YHWH will kill him.  "I have had enough, Lord.  Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."  Then he lays down under the tree and falls asleep.  Elijah is suicidal!

     A lot of people don't read the Bible in it's cultural context.  They miss a lot of the beauty and truth.  They also tend to come up with some really goofy theology as a result of it.  Many other people tend to dismiss these ancient poets and authors as irrelevant because they were not as advanced and sophisticated as we are. (Yeah, because knowing how to program your I-pod makes you better than that monkey in the tree.) The truth is that the writers of the Old Testament were brilliant & gifted artists who knew how to tell a great story with many layers of complexity interwoven into it.  Sometimes, even what is left out is as important as what is put in.  As an old seminary prof once said to me "The silence can be deafening."
     At any rate, what I have always loved about the Bible, especially these stories from the O.T. is how earthy and real they are.  The writer of this story isn't afraid to point out that Elijah had a Death Wish...even after his amazing victory on Mt. Carmel.  You would think that Elijah would tell Queen Jezebel to kiss his pucker after what he had just witnessed, but instead he is frightened and now longs for death.  Hhmmm, I guess I can relate.
     I had a Psych. Prof that pointed out that King David was probably manic depressive based on the Psalms that he wrote.  The Prophet Jeremiah certainly was depressed a lot. (You don't get the nick-name, the Weeping Prophet, with out it.) The point is that the writers of the Bible were not afraid to point out the imperfections and flaws of people who longed for a healthy relationship with God.

     At any rate, back to Elijah.  

     So Elijah has a Death Wish.  He is sleeping under that little tree in the wilderness.  An angel wakes him up with dinner on the fire.  The angel doesn't judge Elijah for what he is feeling.  He just tells him to eat something.  After that, Elijah falls back to sleep.  The angel comes back in the morning with breakfast.  Again, he doesn't judge Elijah.  Instead, the angel encourages Elijah on his journey.  It should be noted that Elijah's journey is running away from the very ministry that he was called to do.  He is a coward.  He has essentially lost his faith.  He wants to die.  The angel never brings that up.
     Getting to Mt. Horeb takes Elijah over a month of walking.  I often wonder what was going on in his head during this time.  Talk about feeling lonely.  Honestly, there isn't much to look at in the area unless you really like geology.
     When Elijah gets to the mountain God comes to him.  YHWH doesn't cast any judgement on Elijah.  He simply asks him a question.  "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (As if God doesn't already know what is rolling around in Elijah's head.) I think that God does this for our benefit.  He is sovereign.  God knows the beginning from the end.  He knows everything.  I think that everything that comes our way, both good & bad, are the ways that God teaches us about ourselves, life in general and Him.  Elijah tells God that everything he has done is pointless.  He says that he is only person in Israel that still worships the one true God.  Essentially, he says "What's the point?"

     I ask myself that question a lot.

     What I have always loved about this story is the way that God responds to Elijah.  YHWH never, ever judges or condemns Elijah for his complete lack of faith.  In fact, YHWH doesn't really respond to Elijah's complaint at all.  Instead, God tells him to go stand at the mouth of the cave that Elijah is hiding in and that He would pass by it.

     "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.  Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

     Elijah repeats his complaint to God.  He says that everything he has done is pointless.  Once again, God never condemns or judges Elijah.  Instead, YHWH tells him to go back home and that He would take care of everything.  YHWH tells Elijah that He is still in charge and that He could be trusted.  Elijah obeys and on his way home he finds Elisha, who will soon succeed him in the ministry.

     I think that Elijah had to go through this whole adventure to gain an understanding of God that he would not have had if he had not had his Death Wish.  I love it that God displays His powers before Elijah on that mountain, but that is NOT what God is.  Instead, God comes to Elijah as that gentle whisper.  I have also heard it translated as "A still, small voice."  That is how God approaches a man in severe pain.  He does not come to awe that person in a world of hurt.  Instead, God comes quietly and gently.
     I long to hear that gentle whisper.  Some days I do hear it.  The last couple of days I have REALLY longed to hear it.  Maybe I will today.  I am slowly climbing out of this dark funk that I am in...even though it's raining outside.  It would be nice to receive a divine hug.  I could use it.

     As I said before, when you are hurting you tend to gravitate towards sad songs.  This is one that I have been listening to a lot over these past few days.  I think it is beautiful.  I also like the refrain "Soon, oh soon the light."  I want to see that light.  I want to hear that still, small voice.



"Soon oh soon the light
Pass within and soothe THIS endless night
And wait here for you
Our reason to be here

Soon oh soon the time
All we move to gain will reach and calm
Our heart is open
Our reason to be here"

     Peace...and I mean that.

     Joe






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