If you’ve been around the world of Bible-stories for long enough then I’m sure you’ve encountered that strange (and hilarious) story of when the prophet Elijah went toe-to-toe with the priests of Baal to prove that his god (Yahweh) was more powerful (and more, well, real) than their god.
The contest? Cut a bull in half and then ask your respective god to set fire to the altar.
You know, typical school yard stuff.
After spending all day dancing around, cutting themselves, chanting, and getting mocked by Elijah (at one point Elijah even suggested, “hey, maybe Baal is busy on the pot? Shout a little louder!” #dropsmic), the prophets of Baal resign to the fact that their god is not going to show up.
Then Elijah built an altar and had people soak it in water (you gotta love the flair for the dramatic), prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and watched as fire fell from heaven and consumed the bull and the altar. The people, watching this spectacle, immediately knew they had been following the wrong god. “Yahweh is the real God!” they shouted.
(If you think people rioting in the streets after their team wins the championship is excessive, that’s nothing compared to Elijah’s victory party. He had the people round up all 450 of Baal’s prophets and then he killed them! Yeesh.)
The following day, after this mighty display of Yahweh’s power and existence, Elijah finds himself hiding in a cave afraid for his life. Although King Ahab had been convinced by Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal, his wife, Jezebel, was murderously furious.
Here’s the point I’m wanting to get to: while hiding in the cave, afraid for his life, Elijah hears the call from the Lord to go back to Israel and pick up his prophet duties. “Why are you hiding here?” God asked him. Elijah responds with how scared he is, and how discouraged he is, and alone he is. “I am the only one left,” Elijah lamented. Everyone else forsook the God of Israel for the false god Baal.
I am the only one.
This is a sentiment I am familiar with. Specifically I can recall being flooded with this thought while my family and I were licking our wounds up in Oregon after having been fired from our church in Arizona because of my theology on sexuality.
I am the only one, I thought, who loves Jesus, loves the church, AND loves and affirms gay people!
Now, obviously in hindsight the absurdity of that thought is evident, but during those days in the darkest moments, hiding in the cave and afraid, I definitely wondered if I was the only one.
Fear has a way of overriding your rational side.
Yahweh, after listening to Elijah spill his heart, and after demonstrating a Divine Presence in the still, quiet, small breeze, responds to Elijah, “I have preserved those who remain in Israel, totaling seven thousand—all those whose knees haven’t bowed down to Baal and whose mouths haven’t kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18)
In other words: Hey Eli, bud, look I get it. You’re afraid. And you have good reason to be. That Jezebel scares even me. But give me some credit, here. And give your fellow people some credit, too. You’re not the only one who has remained faithful to me. In fact, there are currently over 7,000 others who haven’t turned to Baal. So get up, dust yourself off, put your game face on, and get back to work. You’re not alone, bud. Not by a long shot.
Which is exactly what I also discovered, once I was able to come out of the cave a little bit. That in fact there were people all around the world who had this deep love still for Jesus and the church, but who were progressively bent in a number of ways. And there are churches full of these people, and movements full of these churches.
Not only that, but once I came out of my cave a bit and started moving forward in faith I found myself walking down a path that would eventually lead to planting one of these types of churches with some of the most beautiful people I know.
My Ten Year Old Son Gets This
When my oldest son started Kindergarten five years ago I had this thing I’d do with him when I dropped him off at school, hoping to build up his self confidence. As he said goodbye I would ask, “who’s the coolest kid in school?” He would reply with, “I am.” I ask him again, more adamantly, “who is?!” He would responds again, “I am!”
Then I say, “that’s right, you are,” kiss him on the forehead, tell him I love him, and say have a good day.
The specific trait I ask about changes each year. Two years ago I asked, “who is the smartest kid in school?” Last year, when his brother Tai joined him at school, I asked them both, “who are the bravest kids in school?”
“We are,” they’d respond.
“Who is?!” I ask again.
Forehead kisses, love and well wishes.
This year it’s about “kindness.” Who are the kindest kids in school?
A couple weeks ago Zeke, who is growing more fully every day in to his father’s sense of wit mixed with skepticism mixed with an annoying sense of hyper-literalness, responded like this:
Me: “Who are the kindest kids in school?”
Tai: “We are.”
Zeke: “I don’t know.”
Me: “What do you mean, you don’t know?”
Zeke: “I don’t know every kid in this school. How would I know if we are the kindest?”
Fair enough, son… fair enough.
Give God and Others Some Credit
What I’ve learned, and indeed am still learning, is the lesson that Elijah was taught in the cave that day. Don’t assume that you are the only one, for instance, who has been unchained from some of the shackles of bad theology. Don’t assume you are the only one who sees things a bit more clearly now. Don’t assume you’re the only one who’s got it right, or at least has it more right than others.
This sort of mentality is sneaky, it often operates at just underneath the surface of our consciousness. Which is why, perhaps, God had to manifest as a small quiet breeze to Elijah, so that he would be still enough to actually receive such a pointed message to his ego.
Zeke, in his hyper-literal sarcasm, also made the point that we can’t really know everyone, where they’re at, or what sort of people they are. There’s actually a toxic sort of spiritual arrogance that manifests when we lament, like Elijah, “I am the only one!”
Nowadays, I try and give God some more credit. Chances are, if God has brought me along on my specific journey, then I’m pretty sure others have been brought along on similar types of journeys too. Additionally, I’m not that particularly unique or smart or special. I’m pretty sure other people have managed to come the same sorts of conclusions I have about things, too.
No, Colby, you’re not the only one.
Now get up, dust yourself off, and get back out there.