Advent Book Club – Day 11

(I’m taking part in the Twitter #adventbookclub, reading “Beginnings and Endings” by Maggi Dawn. Some days there will just be a simple tweet; other times a blog post for longer thoughts.)

From the patriarchs to the prophets – and the story of the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). Usually when I read this, I get the impression that Elijah is in charge: he is the one who challenges his opponents, chooses the venue, sets the terms of the contest – and he is the one who comes out victorious, at least in the terms he sets.

But Maggi has an interesting take on this, suggesting that Elijah is responding to popular culture rather than following God’s will. And looking back at my impressions, that seems to fit: it is Elijah who is in charge, not God. He lets himself be provoked into responding to the challenge that we sometimes face today: “prove that God exists!”

It can be argued that a god whose existence needs to be demonstrated dramatically isn’t a god worth believing in. A much more important challenge for us could be “show me that believing in God makes a difference in your life”; how would we cope with this?

Although God does answer Elijah’s prayer, it is perhaps significant that this story marks the beginning of the end of Elijah’s ministry; but more of that tomorrow.

On a slightly different tack, one thing that often strikes me about this story is Elijah’s action of pouring water on the sacrifice. It serves to emphasise God’s power and dispel any possible accusation of cheating; but this is a time of drought. Is this a good use of water, or just a waste? How did Elijah persuade people to pour it away? And where did it come from, anyway?

One way of looking at this is that it is a case of giving everything to God, even something as necessary as our last jars of water, so that we are relying completely on God’s provision for us. But in the light of the alternative view of this story, is this really just putting God to the test – something Jesus said we shouldn’t do (Matthew 4:7, quoting Deuteronomy 6:16)?

Today’s reading has left me with more questions than answers; but that’s probably not a bad thing for Advent.

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