Friday, October 14, 2011

1 Kings 17: Belief in Suffering

1 Kings 17 ends with the verse, "And the woman said to Elijah, 'Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.'" She confesses this after Elijah raises her son from the dead. Who wouldn't utter such truth after a miraculous display of God's power? What may be surprising, however, is that the widow would begin her exclamation with "now I know," for she is the same woman Elijah had prophesied an unspendable flour and oil supply. Her life was already daily preserved according to the word of this man of God. So why would she say she believes now?

Naturally, I cannot read the mind of this widow. She was clearly enduring life-altering stress. First, she believed that she and her son were on the brink of starving to death. "And she said, 'As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die'" (1 Kings 17:12 ESV). Even after this miracle had sustained her for "many days," her son still died. "After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him" (1 Kings 17:17 ESV). It's hard to blame her for having doubts. I cannot fathom losing a child, or how I might react toward God in that situation (oh how I pray that my faith would grow).

Drawing from other parts of the Bible, it's possible to see where this mother may have been coming from. The first lesson is that belief doesn't inherently flow from witnessing miracles. During the exodus, Israel did not believe in God as they should have, perpetually complaining to Moses and building golden calves at their first temptation of doubt. Their unbelief dominated despite seeing miraculous power of unparalleled display, excepting the work of Jesus himself. And even during the life of Jesus, his dominion over the physical world was not enough witness for the hard-hearted pharisees. At one point Jesus even teaches [by parable] that miracles will not convince a person unless they already believe the Law and Prophets: "He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead'" (Luke 16:31 ESV). Someone has risen from the dead, yet many (most) do not believe. If only they would look on him whom they have pierced!

But it's unlikely that this widow had an entirely rebellious heart of rejection. She was probably struggling with faith the same way most Christians today struggle with their own faith. When encountering suffering, how many people turn to their pastor, or even ask proverbially, "Where is God in all of this?" This widow asked this her own way, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!" (1 Kings 17:18 ESV).

What can a person do when faced with agonizing suffering? Turn to the Lord. This is exactly what Elijah did. He went up to the child and prayed to God. This was not a case of prophetic foreknowledge; Elijah did not already know the child had died and that he would rise. He earnestly sought the Lord in supplication and faith. God answered his prayer with a 'yes', and he may do the same in our hour of suffering. He may also say, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9). Peter and James teach that God will use trials to grow and purify our faith.

We are real people, with real fears, doubts and suffering. God does not expect us to be spiritual superheroes and suck it up. He tells us to call on him and believe. Confess disbelief and cry out, "Now I know, Jesus my Savior, that you are the Man of God."
"But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." And Jesus said to him, "'If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, 'I believe; help my unbelief!' (Mark 9:22-24 ESV)

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