When God asks a question in scripture, God is not looking for information.
Twelve years ago I sat where Elijah sat, at the base of Mount Horeb, the mountain of God, and watched the light of day illuminate the mountain inch by inch. I listened for God’s whisper at a lodging place that put me in mind of the motor lodges that we use to stay at when I was a boy travelling with my Aunt Peg and Uncle Bill. It even had a motor lodge kind of name, Morganland, and a giant swimming pool. I sat by the pool side watching the wonder of daybreak and thought about our friend, the prophet Elijah. I thought about the question at the mountain, “What are you doing here?”
Elijah, the prophet of God, was truly a superhero in the Old Testament. He appeared out of nowhere in I Kings 17 to confront the idolatry of the king, queen, and the nation of Israel. In fact, he conquered idolatry in a contest on Mt. Carmel, the mountain that overlooks the lush Jezreel Valley. The queen, however, was not so quick to give up on her national religion and promised to put an end to the prophet. What are you doing here, Elijah?
Well, for starters, Elijah was afraid. 1 Kings 19:3 says, “Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life…”
Somehow, it’s good to know that even superheroes feel fear. Sometimes we use other words like anxiety, stress, concern, and maybe even embarrassed, but follow the thread long enough and we get to that pesky sensation of fear. I invite us to bring our fear to the mountain of God.
“What are you doing here?”
There was something else driving Elijah from the lush land below Mt. Carmel to the wilderness of Mt. Horeb (aka Mt. Sinai). Elijah was suffering from a deep sense of futility. He had a severe case of what’s the use. He knew that after all the time, energy and risks he took to confront the idolatry of his people as instructed and empowered by his God, that idolatry would return, perhaps stronger than ever. He was discovering the resilience and adaptiveness of evil. One commentator described him as “a burned out prophet, broken, and disappointed.” That happens when we get a full view of our task and forget that we are not solely responsible for it.
Sometimes the sense of futility can sneak up to you right in the middle of a Disney movie (Frozen II) that you’re watching beside a 4-year-old granddaughter, when you hear a song that begins:
“I’ve seen dark before, but not like this / This is cold, this is empty, this is numb / The life I knew is over, the lights are out / Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb / I follow you around, I always have / But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find / This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down / But a tiny voice whispers in my mind / You are lost, hope is gone / But you must go on / And do the next right thing.\
I invite us to bring our own sense of futility to the mountain of God.
What are you doing here?
Elijah did the next right thing. He went up the mountain, as instructed by God, stood on it and prepared for the Lord to pass by. There was a strong wind followed by a violent earthquake followed by a raging fire. After each of these familiar methods of divine revelation, we learn that the Lord was not found. Then there was this sheer silence, a gentle whisper, or as David Wiseman translates the phrase, “a thin, subdued sound.”
Again the question came, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
God provided the prophet with one more time to express his fears and sense of futility, another chance to be fully transparent. Then God gave some wonderful reassurance that I paraphrase as, “I never expected you to do it all, friend. There will be those after you to pick up the mantle of faithfulness. I only desire for you to be faithful to your call in your life.”
Elijah took fear and a sense of futility up the mountain, he took a renewed faith from the mountain. Both treks are essential.
What are you doing here
I Kings 19:8-9
8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Rev. Kip Gilts is the Assistant to the Bishop for the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. Springing into Joy is brought to you by the Communications Department of the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. To be considered as a future blogger, please contact Shannon W. Martin, Director of Communication at Click to email.