Thursday, March 04, 2010

Lightweight Deity

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done . . . Elijah was afraid and ran for his life (1 Kings 19:1-5).

We’re waiting on a growth spurt. Could be any time now. I’ve made use of biblical language in assuring my son that he’ll shoot up any day – “like a thief I the night . . . you do not know the day or the hour.” But it will come.

In the meantime we let him eat just about anything he wants. I’m not sure that’s such a great idea. It sure won’t hasten the “thief in the night” thing, but maybe it’ll get more meat on the bones. Imagine my surprise when my son announced that he needed to abstain from a meal before a wrestling meet. He explained that he was only a half-pound shy of having to move up to the next weight class and he didn’t want to do that.

Weight classes make sense in wrestling. They keep things fair and they keep things safe. That’s obvious I guess, but I’m new to the whole wrestling subculture. Whereas I’m typically encouraging him to bulk up, I wasn’t sure I wanted him in the next weight class. It means bigger opponents. In theory he’s bigger too – but it didn’t look that way to me.

Strength and size are important in wrestling. And they also matter in our walk with God.

On Mount Carmel it was clear that Elijah served a heavyweight God. The prophet had called for a contest between himself and the prophets of the fertility god Baal. Elijah had gone to the mat on this one, challenging the people. “How long will you waver between two opinions. If the Lord is God follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21).

Short version of the story: Baal was pinned in seconds by Elijah’s God. Baal had nothing to offer in response to the loud and frantic prayers of his prophets, more than four hundred of them pleading hour after hour for a show of strength. Their prayers met with Elijah’s taunts and silent skies.

Then Elijah prayed. A short request, simple and clear in it purpose: send fire so that all may know that you, O Lord, are God (1 Kings 18:37-38). And fire fell from heaven.

The shocking thing about this story is its aftermath. Having defeated Baal’s prophets, Elijah is a wanted man, hunted by Queen Jezebel. In the face of her threats, God suddenly became small, a lightweight deity. The pagan Queen became large, a heavyweight ruler. Fear gripped Elijah’s heart and he ran for his life.

How is it that God so easily and often becomes small in our eyes?

Elijah’s name means “The Lord is God.” We say we believe it. But the slightest opposition from some pretender to power in our lives can send us into a tailspin of anxiety. Our God is suddenly shrunken and weak – and something else stands large and powerful in our minds and claims lordship over our hearts.

The person making hiring decisions becomes strong and powerful against our lightweight deity. The stock market and drama of Wall Street looms large as God pales in the background, swallowed up in the noise of trading. A supervisor becomes the heavyweight, far too much for our scrawny God. God gets small, even when we know better, even when we’ve lived through something where we’ve seen fire fall from heaven.

In 1961 J. B. Phillps wrote a book titled “Your God is too Small.” If such a thing could be written in 1961, how much more so in 2010? As this year begins, what weight class have you placed God in? And what would it take for God to once again become a heavyweight deity – Powerful, Sovereign, Creator God.

Forgive us for seeing you as small, O God, while other things stand large and formidable in our minds and in our hearts. We would recover our sense of your power today, living with the strength that comes from serving a great and mighty God who is at the same time faithful in caring for us. Grant us courage for all that we face and a vision of your presence with us. Amen.

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