Life is loud and ugly. Nations rage and governments tumble. COVID continues to collect the dead and divide neighbors into "vaxxers" and "anti-vaxxers." The battle of opposing moral standards impacts most institutions in the United States, including sports, medicine, business, entertainment and education. Crime rises and police are the bad guys, and the bad guys are the good guys. Scandals of immorality rage among politicians, entertainers and megachurch pastors.
How does one cope?
It wasn’t just the daily news of a world gone mad, but the stories I hear from my patients as a clinical psychologist. Mental health has seen an increase in depression, stress, suicide and addiction. God may be winning in Heaven, but the Earth has felt like a loss.
I retreated, pulled myself inward into a cave of despair. What’s the point? Why try anymore? Why not join God in Heaven and leave the battle to Him?
Sound familiar? It is the same story of Israel’s Old Testament prophet Elijah, who hid in a cave to escape an unprecedented evil and threat of death.
If you don’t remember Elijah, perhaps you have heard of Jezebel. She was the reason for Elijah’s cave experience and retreat from the greatest evil in Israel’s history. A woman of such infamy that the name Jezebel is still referenced today as a symbol of decadence, indulgence, twisted sexuality and unparalleled evil. There is the website jezebel.com, Jezebel the magazine, Jezebel movies and thousands of references to her in literature and entertainment. Even “I Love Lucy” had a Jezebel episode!
Jezebel’s namesake has carried the mystery and infamy of scandal and wickedness for almost 3,000 years. Even her brutal death — thrown from a window, trampled by horses and eaten by dogs — could not stamp out the imprint she made on the world of evil.
Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, the Jewish King of Israel, around the year 870 B.C. They were quite the couple. Ahab is immortalized as the one who “did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him” (1 Kings 16:30). As Queen of Israel, Jezebel’s mission was to eliminate the worship of Israel’s God and put in place the religion of her Phoenician culture. She imported over 950 of her prophets, erected idols to her gods, employed temple prostitutes and murdered the prophets of Israel. Life was loud, ugly and filled with bloodshed.
Elijah responded by fighting fire with fire; literally. He challenged the 950 prophets of Jezebel to a contest. “You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire-he is God” (1 Kings 18:24).
The 950 prophets of Jezebel stood on one side, Elijah on the other; between them, a sacrificial bull on a pile of wood. The prophets of Jezebel cried out, “Slashing themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom.” No response. Their god was silent.
Elijah’s turn came. With dramatic flair, he had four large basins of water poured on the wood and sacrifice. He called on the Lord and fire from Heaven consumed “the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” Chaos ensued, and the prophets of Jezebel ran for their lives and were slaughtered in the Kishon Valley.
Jezebel received the news and vowed to kill Elijah. In fear, Elijah ran and hid in a cave. He was finished. Defeated. Elijah was convinced Jezebel was the victor.
What does a person do hiding in a cave, afraid of the world and feeling defeated? How do you get out?
Perhaps Elijah awaited another dramatic victory by the hand of God. Maybe a repeat of the plagues of Egypt when Israel escaped the oppression of Pharaoh. The loud booming presence of God coming in a whirlwind of judgment defeating the wicked.
“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 went out and stood at the face of the cave” (1 Kings 19:11-13).
If I hid in a cave and God spoke in an earthquake I’d probably listen. The thunderous voice of God crumbling the rocks around me and booming, “Stop whining, get out of the cave and get back to work,” might not have reduced my fears, but I would at least have taken my chances against Jezebel’s goons versus the wrath of God.
But God, the loving Father, comes to Elijah in a gentle whisper. He knew Elijah was tired, hungry, defeated and afraid. Similar words spoken by Jesus to those crushed and beaten by the world, “Come all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, For I am gentile and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28).
Are we looking for God in the thunder and earthquakes of life? Are we hiding in caves of despair until God’s fire consumes everything evil?
Some days I do hide in a cave. I pray for the fire of God, like Elijah on Mount Carmel. I want God to consume everything from the wickedness of humanity to the tragedies of addiction, cancer and crime in the streets. I want the thunder and power of God to respond to the thunder of an abusive world.
But that isn’t the lesson of Elijah. Even when Elijah is restored and told to return to Israel, he isn’t promised victory. Instead, he is to engage in a world where the godly are in the minority and the ugly battle of humanity continues to rage.
God is not alarmed or troubled by rulers and the evil governments of Earth. He isn’t concerned if He is a match for the power of China, Afghanistan or North Korea. He isn’t worried if his angles and power can defeat Satan and his angels. He isn’t worried about rallying the earthquakes, thunder and lightning to judge the world. It is a done deal.
Instead, the agony and wrestling of God has been the cross of Christ. In Him he suffered the thunder and earthquakes of sin; the loud cries and sorrows of the nations in the wailing of His Son, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me.”
God is not concerned about the “kings of the earth that rise up and the rulers who band together against the Lord and his anointed (Psalm 2). The Great Shepherd leaves the 99 to find the one fearful soul alone in a cave. One soul, wounded by evil, hearing the whisper, “Come all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Dr. David Zuccolotto is a former pastor and clinical psychologist. For 35 years he has worked for hospitals, addiction treatment centers, outpatient clinics and private practice. He is the author of The Love of God: A 70 Day Journey of Forgiveness.