What a trying time. Both “Jesus is God” and “Elizabeth Elliot” are trending on the App Formerly Known As Twitter. I am so so tempted to dive into the Elizabeth Elliot “debate”—have been for days, actually—but I’m going, yet again, to exercise restraint, self-control, and other kinds of virtues, bending my will inexorably to the fact that it is Sunday.* And also, because I bet Elizabeth Elliot herself would prefer me to keep holy the Lord’s Day by thinking more about the Bible than what a lot of people who disapprove of not only most of Christian History but also what the Bible itself says. I will therefore go straight to the “Jesus is God” option. Especially since, as some of you may have noticed, not only on X, but around the world, many in real life physical places inhabited by people who should have known that Jesus is God, there has been a strange and ugly forgotting of this crucial reality. The place that grieves me to my very bones is Canterbury Cathedral. The people in charge, a few days ago, transformed that gorgeous structure into a ruinous “rave party.” Here is a link to one of the clips, if you want to see it. I did not.
I think it better to run straight away to that place in the wilderness. You must remember how almost everyone in Israel had apostatized under the deathworks of Ahab and his awful wife, Jezebel. The people at the very top, who were meant to guard and protect not only the economic and social health of the nation but also the spiritual underpinning that keeps a people alive both individually and corporately, those very people had brought in, on purpose, many idols and persuaded the people at every level of the social hierarchy to worship them. The chief one was Baal. A useful God. Expensive, requiring substantial libations of blood, but malleable, and, best of all, predictable. The prophet was sick at heart, for though he had killed so many of the prophets of this wretched god, yet, his life was ever in his throat. That wicked woman—a vile one, truth be told, who perverted the affections of her husband, who was willing to commit murder when it suited her—was determined to find and kill him.
And so, like any reasonable person, exhausted by both the culture wars and all the other manner of conflict, he ran into the wilderness to escape. And,
“there he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the world of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to take it away.”
It’s the “And” that catches in the back of my throat. For what we are looking at in every corner of every Christian place, every denomination, every old and beautiful church building, every once vibrant community is yet another “And.” One more tragic occurrence of a place destroyed by unbelievers who, through unrelenting persistence against exhausted believers, won the day. Just by the by, I don’t have time for this, but I’ve started a document called “Jesus and Justin Welby: How Anglican Elites Corrupted A Faith And Fractured A Communion.” DM me if you have peculiar anecdotes I may have overlooked.
I’ve never been an upbeat sort of person, but for the first time in many years, even after enduring the demise of a church I loved, just watching that horrible 50-second clip of people dancing to techno music in a cathedral in which are buried the heroes of my faith, I feel like maybe I am beginning to understand the total wrecked spiritual state of Elijah the prophet. I mean, I haven’t killed a hundred, or however many, servants of Baal, but I have read every dumb book that’s come out in the last four years. I’ve had to scroll past every lie. I’ve gotten online and blogged and complained. I’ve risen up before the dawn to pray. I’ve implored people to put themselves into the hands of Jesus. And after all of it, what? A death sentence for that exhausted prophet. And for us, the desecration of our most cherished and beloved holy places.
The thing to remember about the time in which we live is that it is a death work. It is a death space. It is a death belief. It is death. Everything about it is to destroy the human soul and drag it into hell as fast as possible. And what are you going to do? Living, as you do, in a world—not just a nation, but a world—that has chosen death to be its Shepherd? Well, I guess you will sit in your cave and grumble for a few minutes, and then,
he [the LORD] said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.
Why wasn’t the Lord in the wind? As the world is breaking apart. As the leaders of the nations are wandering around the stage and mumbling that they can’t remember. As the Archbishop of Canterbury is making a mockery of the God in heaven who dwells on high, who is judge of both the living and the dead. As the institutions are crumbling into the very dust. Why isn’t the Lord in the wind?
And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
What is an earthquake when the DJ can make the building shake as the people dance. Why are they wearing earphones? What are they even doing?
And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.
The chapel of my seminary, a little bit after I graduated, was struck by lightning, and burnt to the ground. It was some small consolation for the many sermons I had endured that denied the divinity of Jesus, that made a mockery of the scriptures, that did not even remember the kind of people who had placed one stone upon another to build a place of worship.
And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
The discomfiting thing is, it isn’t just the people of Israel who forsook the Lord’s covenant, it has been everyone—at least lately. All the people in actual churches who had all the stories, who had, as Peter said, “the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” All those people had been told that the Lord was good, that his mercy endured forever. That his mercy was to a thousand generations of them that feared him. That his mercy took a particular shape—the shape of the cross. In that low whisper is the sound of the Lord Jesus who took that cross and went up that hill and died so that you and I could live. Not in some esoteric bliss, but with him, who is Life, forever. Why wouldn’t you be jealous for such a God? Why wouldn’t you be willing to sacrifice everything for such a mercy?
Of course you would be discouraged, having seen so great a salvation, to find that everyone still is willing to trample down that grace, that life, that truth under the Amazon delivered tennis shoes of a lot of dancers who needed to hear the message proclaimed from the pulpit built for that very purpose.
Let’s leave Elijah. He has errands to run, threads to tie up before he can be caught up to his Lord in a chariot of fire. He’s wrong. It isn’t him only. There are yet 7000 in Israel who haven’t devoted themselves to the worship of idols. There are at least that many in England, and maybe half that in the United States. Let’s go have a look at Jesus, who, as we know from the trending section of X, is God.
In the midst of all his public ministry, after healing and teaching and delivering, there’s the “And” again:
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
I’m with Peter. I want a tent. I want Jesus to stand, comfortably, solidly, talking to Elijah and Moses who must have been so relieved, and so sorry for James and John and Peter who had miles left to go. It’s ok to run to the cave, or to the mountain, for a while. But you’re going to have to come down and face the demon-possessed child and Jehu the son of Nimshi and all the people determined to malign the good name of Elizabeth Elliot. Which is to say, you should go to church where you can gaze at the lamp shining in a dark place, where you can hear God’s holy word, where you can rejoice in his day, the day of his resurrection, his overturning death forever. And, when you have to go out the doors to do down all the Baal Worshipers and the Culture War Hypocrites, the still small voice of the Savior, who is stronger than the earthquake, and the fire, and the destruction of the death that you’re most comfortable with, will be with you.
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*Don’t worry, I will have as many hottakes as I like starting Monday.