Here’s an alternate version of this story that’s NOT in the Bible: Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal. Jezebel threatened him, but Elijah laughed. God gave Elijah power to fix everything in Israel. No idolatry. Total faith. Universal justice. Lasting peace. Elijah then founded Yahweh University, training every Israelite to do even more. Elijah was so successful that when Jesus Christ came, everything was so perfect that Jesus said: “Great job, Elijah. Go do the same in every nation.” And Elijah did. He was never tired or discouraged. He never gave up and never failed. Everything ever since has been wonderful.
This, of course, is NOT Elijah. This is Achieveatron. The conservative columnist David Brooks came up with Achieveatron, which is really our idol of perfection. Achieveatron, which we are supposed to be, is the picture of success: Thin, young, attractive, wise, winning, and wealthy. That, says Brooks, is the subtle lie whispered constantly to us by the culture. That’s what you should be.
An idol looks great outside, but is hollow inside. Except for the blood. Idols demand sacrifice: “Spill your blood and worship me. Or, better yet, spill someone else’s blood as you worship me and I will give you it all.”
But Scripture tells us the truth: Elijah was no Achieveatron. Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, but had to flee for his life. Success led not to more success, but to suffering. As it does for most of God’s friends.
Elijah fled to the desert, where he passed out. But God nourished him with rest and food – and then God took Elijah to the Source: Mt. Horeb where God gave the law to Moses.
There Elijah sheltered in a cave and God appeared: Not in a tornado, earthquake, or wildfire – but in silence. Then God gave Elijah not an answer, but a question – and a new assignment and renewed strength.
Maybe you haven’t experienced a tornado, earthquake, or wildfire, but you have experienced a pandemic. We’ve experienced all Elijah’s emotions: Fear of death, flight and isolation, despair and exhaustion, holed up in our caves as chaos engulfed us: Mental illness, suicide, domestic violence, addiction – all are up. Because we’ve been through hell.
But while we’ve been in hell, God’s been with us. Helping us survive. But hell leaves scars. Christ arose with scars. We will, too. You don’t survive a pandemic without being affected. We are exhausted, irritable, and more. Resurrection takes time. Jesus wasn’t instantly resurrected after he was crucified. We aren’t going to be either. It took Jesus three days. It’s going to take time for us, too.
Elijah’s world fell apart. How did God help Elijah? A nap. Bread and water. A cave and a question.
What blessings is God using to resurrect you? How is God inviting you to return to your Source to find what you need to live? How is God trying to give you what you need?
It’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to have needs. It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to not know. Those are the places where God will reach out to you to help you heal. Not so that you can be privately perfect, but so that you can partner with God to help heal the world.
Start with being more patient with yourself. Then be more loving to your family. Pray for the jerk at work who is messing with you. Be kind to him and forgive him. Don’t retaliate when someone cuts you off in traffic. Do something kind for a neighbor.
Start doing that and keep at it. Pretty soon you just might find that you are doing something to help God with climate change or racial justice or world peace. Kindness begets kindness. Forgiveness prevents retaliation. Acts of care and love detoxify the climate of indifference and hate.
It starts with God and continues with you. Not in perfection, but in persistence. Not in isolation, but in community. Not by us being almighty and in control, but by God being gentle and by coming to us every day, helping us to heal; inviting us to live.