There are powerful indications of victory and strength, joy and hope, praise and trust, throughout the appointed readings. “Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword” (1 Kgs. 19:1). Mission accomplished. Fear nothing. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (Ps. 42:5). “For you are the God in whom I take refuge” (Ps. 43:2). Wearing the whole armor of God, we are “clothed in Christ,” secure and strong as the “children of God through faith” (Gal. 3:26). We live in the invincible body of Christ; we have put on Christ and live from the power of his life.
Nevertheless, the biblical readings show much of their strength precisely because they expose profound depths of despair and loss and fear. Victory is never victory unless something is endured, and much of what is endured in life is struggle and gripping pain.
In the end, we cannot fail because the victory of Christ is secure, but in the middle time of our mortal existence, that victory may at times seem a distant hope. Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, but then was pursued by Queen Jezebel, who promised, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one them by this time tomorrow” (1 Kgs. 19:2). What happened to the prophet? “Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life …. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die” (1 Kgs. 19:3-4).
Such words are put in the Bible because they speak the real and raw truth of human despair. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life” (1 Kgs. 19:4).
The many psalms of lamentation spring from a broken human heart. “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where now is your God?’” (Ps. 42:3). “My soul is cast down within me,” “all your waves and your billows have gone over me,” “the enemy oppresses me” (Ps. 42). Save me, the Psalmist cries, from the sword, the power of dogs, the lion’s mouth, the horns of wild bulls (Ps. 22:20-21).
Is this too heavy? Is it too harsh to say such things in the edifice of a church? No doubt, despair voiced too often will be weary and only make matters worse. We need to be lifted up; we need to be encouraged; we need to be strengthened. But if lamentation is never acknowledged from the pulpit, the people who make their home in the pews may feel that the church is deaf to their deepest cries and their worst sorrows. Again and again, as every priest knows, faithful church members who have suffered a terrible loss may, for a time or even a season, retreat from the church, not wanting to be seen in their pain. If lamentation were expressed from the pulpit on occasion and with prudence, this would happen less often.
Jesus met a demoniac, a naked man who lived among tombs. The man called himself Legion, counting the torments at loose in his mind. Jesus met him, healed him, and restored him to his proper mind. We may, in Christ, have this hope, the hope of a final victory and rest. We may hope to tell what great things the Lord has done, and how he has delivered us from despair and death.
Look It Up
Read Luke 8:39.
Think About It
A demoniac declares the deeds of God.