God is Near

Psalm 25:14, The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant.

1 Kings 19:1-8, Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.

Elijah was a courageous prophet. He faced the prophets of Baal, proved their god to be false, and killed them by God’s command. This is a daring move to make in a pagan world. Today’s pagan gods include abortion clinics and sex change practises. Imagine if God sent Elijah to destroy the high places of abortion clinics and transgender practises. He would be a widely hated man by both the American people and the government, yes? Everyone would view him as a threat, just as those who worship sacred autonomy today view Christians as a threat because we have the audacity to expose their false gods as they are—wicked and deceitful.

Elijah is often viewed as a courageous, bold prophet. Yet we forget he was also a sinner. The threat on Elijah’s life that Jezebel gave was a common Hebrew idiom of those days. She was, in a sense, pronouncing a curse on Elijah. She was essentially saying, “May the gods deal with me accordingly if I do not kill you like you killed these prophets.” Jezebel swears to the gods—the very gods Elijah denounced and proved to be false. Yet he was afraid. If he knew the gods were false, why was he afraid? The text doesn’t say, but I think it may be because of Jezebel’s position. She was, after all, queen of Israel, so she had the power to take his life without question. So perhaps he feared her power.

This isn’t to justify Elijah’s fear, however. He had just proven to the Baal prophets God’s almighty power. This is one of many times that Elijah has witnessed God’s preëminent power. Even though Jezebel had the power to take his life as queen, God’s power far surpasses that power. Elijah perhaps knew this, but in his sin he became afraid and fled. 

Yet in his hiding—and consequently running from God’s comfort and providence—he cries out to God. Elijah failed to trust in God in the presence of Jezebel’s power, then he calls out to God. What is God’s response to his faithful servant? Is it ridicule and disappointment like we would expect? No, God shows us an unearthly—an alien—response. God shows Elijah compassion. God provided for him through miraculous means, assuring him that his life—and his ministry—would continue. Later on into the chapter God also shows Elijah that his ministry would continue in the succession of Elisha.

I think many of us—perhaps all of us—can relate to Elijah. Elijah was a courageous, bold prophet, knowledgable of God’s awesome power. Yet in a moment of weakness and sin, he fails to trust in that very power he knows and becomes afraid, and runs away accordingly. Have you ever done this? Have you ever failed to trust in God even though you know He is all-powerful? I certainly have.

What God shows us through Elijah’s experience is that even in the midst of doubt and fear, God is always near. We’re sinners, and at times we will doubt God because of our fear. Yet God doesn’t deal with us in ridicule and disappointment. He doesn’t draw away from us and lecture us on how disappointed He is, even though we drew away from Him. Instead, God remains near to us in prayer, His Word, and the sacraments. When we are in fear or doubt, we can always call out to God like Elijah did. Notice how Elijah calls out to God, however. He doesn’t call out to Him to receive comfort; rather, he calls out to Him to end his life—he calls out to Him in desperation. God heard the fearful, doubtful Elijah; and He hears us too when we doubt Him.

We often think of prayer as approaching God with a beautiful, poetical prayer with clever metaphors. We want to pray like how the psalms are written. Yet prayer isn’t always like this, and it mustn’t alway be like this. Prayer is a chance for us to talk to God in, well, a human way. Look at how Elijah prayed to God. He didn’t call out to Him in a beautiful, metaphorical prayer. He said exactly what he was feeling—that he wished to die because of his failure.

God knows when we are sad, angry, and desperate. Thus we ought to call out to Him when we are feeling such emotions. If you’re angry with God, be honest with yourself—and Him—by telling Him you’re angry; He already knows you are. An honest prayer is when you are honest with God and yourself. I’ve called out to God in my anger many times; I’ve even yelled at Him. Yet in spite of this sin, God still hears me and comforts me. Prayer is having a conversation with God. We think prayer is only a one-way conversation since God doesn’t audibly respond, yet He does respond. He responds in His Word and sacraments.

If you want to hear God’s voice, read His Word, even out loud. God’s Word may be ancient, but His Word is for us today. Several years ago I was dealing with extreme self-loathing to the point that I believed God would not forgive me because of my many sins no matter how many times I repented. I doubted God’s forgiveness. Yet God did not scorn me for doubting Him, even though that’s what I deserve. Instead, He drew me to His Word. As I spent time in His Word, I “happened” to come across two verses that made me realise the extent of God’s amazing grace. Proverbs 28:13, Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” And 1 John 1:8-9, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confesses our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” These two verses were the first time I fully realised the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. I acknowledged my sin not just in my mind, but also before God many times a day. I asked and begged for His forgiveness incalculably even though I could not forgive myself. Yet the forgiveness is on God, not me—it is on Jesus Christ on the cross. In the midst of my fear and doubt, God showed me compassion in His Word by speaking to me the forgiveness I have in Christ.

It doesn’t end there, of course. I’m still a sinner, and as such I still commit different and even the same sins. Not only is His Word a constant reminder to me what He has done, but so are His sacraments. My church administers the Lord’s Supper every other Sunday (though I prefer it to be every Sunday). Whenever it’s “Eucharist Day,” as I call it, I look forward to that day all week. Because on that day, I get to come before my Lord at the altar and taste the sweetness of His forgiveness in His body and blood. I receive physical comfort that I am forgiven. Not only that, but I also get to remember my Baptism every day. Every day, when my mind does not fail me, I get to remember my Baptism—that God killed me in my sin and raises me up in a new life in Christ (see Romans 6). These sacraments are sure, physical comforts God uses to forgive us and show us His compassion.

God is always near, even in the midst of our fear and doubt. He is near in His Word, He is near as Christ is present in His body and blood in the Eucharist, and He is near when He helps us to remember our cleansing in our Baptism. 

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