And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” 3 And when he saw that he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” 5 Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6 Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” 8 So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” 11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 And he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
What is our world coming to? There has been an outbreak of natural disasters and human disasters. Can we think of a time more filled with earth-shaking events than this? Our hearts cry out in the words of a song: "Lord, if we ever needed You before, we sure do need you NOW!" When the towers fell on that cool September morning, amidst shock and silent dread, we understood that our world had changed. We did not yet know how or even why it had happened, but we knew that we would never be the same. Our world has changed dramatically since then. We thought we'd seen it all. Now fourteen years later, our world is experiencing even more unprecedented crises in new ways.
And what are our churches to become? In Christian circles, we play with phrases like, ‘divine suddenlies’ and ‘holy interruptions.’ These terms sound so mystical and intriguing, however, we must face the fact that into our lives these unexpected occurrences introduce real crises. The meaning conveyed in the Greek word “krisis” is judgment or decision making. This can refer to the process which discriminates and separates. Crisis is indeed a defining moment. When we are caught in the midst of disaster, tragedy, and catastrophe, it is not hard to believe that some type of divine process of sifting is happening. With the weight of calamity bearing down so powerfully upon us, there is often tremendous pressure to frantically skip past the middle zone of discomfort from crisis to recovery. We know that the outcome of our present crisis is sure to change us dramatically. We comfort ourselves with the thought that crisis won’t last forever. “This too shall pass.” Yet, we know deep within that when the whirlwind is gone, something about us…something about our worlds will be different. The still, small voice pulling at us from within whispers haunting questions: Will we make it through this storm? How shall we then live on after the storm? What will we become in the aftermath?
The aftermath is a period of restoration from the trauma of loss and calamity that often feels slow and long. The crackle of lightning, the crash of thunder, the roar of the hurricane…these all speak as the voice of crisis, urgent, imposing, terrifying. But...if we pause long enough, we will hear the still, small, lingering voice release the whispered sound that leads us along to another day. Far too often, when we deal with personal crisis, we strive for instant resolution. It is a human instinct to want to swiftly stop the pain. Christian triumphalism often pushes us to fight to be positive…as a result, we claim the ground of certainty far too soon. Many times, however, in the aftermath of crisis, we are not afforded the easy solutions or the pat answers…not for a while. The aftermath introduces us to an in-between phase that lead us to the crisis after the crisis. This is the crisis of redefinition that we only discover when we choose to remain in the aftermath.
Elijah had just had the biggest moment in his prophetic career when he called down fire from heaven on the altar in the midst of the prophets of Baal. Now the tables had turned on him after this great supernatural feat and next, we see Elijah running away from the fury of Jezebel and the wrath of Ahab. He was running from the crisis. This crisis begins earlier in the story in the book of Kings, when Ahab and his wife Jezebel begin their wicked reign over Israel. The violence, bloodshed, and idolatry commissioned by Jezebel, and apparently assented to by Ahab, aroused the indignation of the prophet Elijah. He confronted Ahab and charged him with the sin of following Baal. Elijah had two altars set up at Carmel, one dedicated to Baal, one to Yahweh, and a bull sacrificed upon each altar. The supporters of Baal called upon their god to send fire to consume the sacrifice, but nothing happened. When Elijah called on Yahweh, fire came down from heaven immediately and consumed the offering. Elijah ordered the people to seize the prophets of Baal, and they were all slaughtered.
The superiority of Elijah and of his God in the test at Carmel, and the slaughter of the 450 prophets of Baal, fired the vengeance of Jezebel. Elijah fled for his life to the wilderness, where he mourned the devotion of Israel to Baal and the lack of worshipers of Israel's God. He was the target of the violent backlash of an Ahab and Jezebel system or culture. When we courageously attempt to dismantle the system of Ahab and Jezebel, we must be prepared for the fury that follows. Elijah was running from a crisis situation, but even in the place where he thought he was safe from the harsh effects of his stormy world, he would soon discover that he still had to deal with the aftermath. He got to the mountain, but for a time he had to remain in the cave shielding himself from the storm that came after the storm.
Many apocalyptic movies are skilled at dramatizing end of the world crises in ways that keep us spellbound and captivated. The movie climaxes when the crisis is over. Few of these stories really tell us the tale of the aftermath. One epic picture, The Day After Tomorrow, centers most of its plot on a massive climate shift that triggers the rapid acceleration of a global Ice Age and how the heroes survive the deep freeze. Yet, the movie fails to unveil what happens after the storm dissipates and the world is buried in snow. What then? At the center of the story is a paleo-climatologist (this is a scientist who studies the ways weather patterns changed in the past), Jack Hall. Professor Jack Hall tries to save the world from the effects of global warming while also trying to get to his son, Sam, who was in New York City as part of a scholastic competition when the city was overwhelmed by the chilling beginnings of the new Ice Age. In addition to all of the other challenges Dr. Hall faces, he is also going against the flow as humanity races south to warmer climates, and he is nearly the only one going north.
When our worlds are shaking, everyone runs for safety, looking for warmth and shelter. Like Professor Hall, Elijah ran away from the mainstream path. Elijah ran through a desert for forty days. He ran to Mt. Horeb because there he knew he could find God. Elijah encountered another storm. First, there was a violent wind, then there was an earthquake, then there was a raging fire. Trials, turmoil, tribulations all leave behind some trauma. Without question, there was trauma to deal with once the storm was over. One professor puts it this way, “The story of trauma is a story about the storm that does not go away.” (Dr. Shelley Rambo) In the aftermath of the hurricane, the answer is not in running, it is in remaining.
A year after the World Health Organization declared an Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the disease is fading. But this health crisis has cut a deep gash. For instance, 4,200 Liberians are dead. The economy is barely sputtering back to life following months in which panicked investors fled and residents deserted fields and factories, fearing the insidious disease. By most accounts, Ebola is under control in Liberia. But there still are lingering after effects of the epidemic. So many lives lost, so many worlds shattered by the crisis. Yet in the history of Liberia there is a testimony of resilience amidst struggle and survival. That is the kind of inner reserve it will take to face the long road ahead in the aftermath.
A recent article by the Washington post is titled “After Ebola: As the disease has faded in West Africa, survivors now wonder how they will survive a new crisis: a lack of work.” The illness erupted severing the worlds so many had come to know. It swept through the home where Dolley lived with her extended family. They died one after the other: her husband, her two young sons, the 22-year-old neighbor she had taken in, Emmanuel. Every single person died — 29 relatives in all. Everyone was ravished by the disease, except her. In the aftermath, Dolley could have lost her mind and caved in, but she kept her faith in God and instead took in six orphan children who had lost their parents to the disease. Dolley was forced to accept the violent changes that had overturned her familiar world. She could have tried to run away and escape from the brutal realities, but she remained. She remained in the aftermath of a bitter and devastating outcome and found new meaning and purpose. Dolley received the strength and wisdom to begin to put her life back together. No matter how difficult, Ebola had determined that the old was gone and the new had come. Dolly no longer had the luxury of craving normalcy at the expense of newness. She had to quiet her raging soul and listen to the whispered call. Perhaps the call whispering to her had lost its own strength amidst the outbreak. Nonetheless, the quieted voice seemed to say I am your comrade in the aftermath.
11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
Elijah responded to the still small voice and stood in the entrance of the cave. He stood in the in-between space; at the threshold. “Liminality is the term [Frost and Hirsch] use to describe a threshold experience…a transitional stage between what was and what is to come.” The aftermath is liminal space, but this liminality is sometimes dangerous, marginal and disorienting. It is the product of change and response to change. It often follows on the heels of a crisis. Most people are quick to get things back to normal and do not ride the change – then the space of liminality, becomes obsolete or irrelevant. We are not the same, we are becoming something better, more transformative because of the crisis. Those who are willing to embrace risk in the journey between what was and what will be will become stronger, more mature, ready to be ambassadors of the kingdom of God. A work is emerging, the glory of the Lord will appear, if we wait past the tyranny of this present crisis and follow the still small voice leading us to a more powerful future.
Let us meditate on the words of a song I loved to sing many years ago by Larnelle Harris:
So You were in it after all All of those moments I spent crying When something inside of me was dying I didn't know that You heard me Each time I called You had a reason for those trials It seems I grew stronger every mile Now I know You were in it after all We're always ready Lord to take the glory But we're seldom willing to endure the pain You were with me when the sun was shining, And You were still beside me when it rained So You were in it after all Taking the blows that I'd been given Mending the wounds that needed mending I didn't know that You heard me each time I called I guess it's easy now to see it, I don't know how I could have missed it Jesus So You were in it after all