“We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.”
I loved it when our preacher held forth on one of the great stories in the Old Testament, Elijah’s hands-down whacking of those 450 prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, as recorded in I Kings 18. Nothing in the OT comes even close in shock and awe.
Elijah set the whole contest up. It’d be nose to nose, the World Cup of deities—two gods having at it for the respect and worship of an entire nation. Baal’s team had first raps. The objective?--to consume a sacrificial bull, already butchered and dressed. For hours, Baal’s team pleaded and cajoled. Nothing. Not a spark.
At noon, Elijah gave the bad guys the what-for. “Maybe your god is visiting the toilet,” he jeered. Still nothing.
Some significant blood-letting followed, as those 450 Baal prophets started slashing away at themselves. Bull-wise, however, there was still bloody nothing—all day long.
Come evening, Elijah asks the people to edge up a little closer, then incites a little crowd participation when he has them douse his bull with buckets-full of water, the old man chortling a bit, methinks, as he’s very plainly stretching the odds. No self-mutilation, no conjuring, no wailing, however; because once the scene was set, Elijah prayerfully suggested that the God of Israel make it clear that he was, in fact, God.
And all of this in a crowd of hundreds of seekers. We could scour the Bible, not to mention human history, and not find a more spectacular display of sovereignty than the searing Mount Carmel conquest God ignited before his people.
Our young preacher focused on the choice Elijah lays out in verse 21 to the idolatrous Israelites: "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." The sermon was about choices, tough ones, the kind we all make day-to-day, even moment-to-moment. There is the straight and narrow, or the interstate. On which path are you? That sort of thing.
Psalm 90:6 is one of those verses that makes you shake when you think about it, not at all unlike what happened at the very end of this most impressive grudge match, a part of the story our young pastor didn’t touch. Once the match ends, Elijah tells the just-now-pious Israelites to grab all 450 prophets of Baal and drag them down to the river and slay them, all of them. Turn the beach into a slaughter house.
Which they do.
That’s scary. A whole host of people hacked to death, righteously. Seems so out-of-character for the God I think I know and love.
A verse like today’s rings somewhat hollow in modern life—or post-modern life. It’s not easy to see God almighty as terrifying, which may be why our young preacher didn’t touch the massacre right there in the story.
Today, God doesn’t scare us much—or at least he doesn’t scare me. He scares some TV preachers who believe they know why God sent a flood to New Orleans or other such miseries; but for me and my house, being consumed by God’s anger and terrified by his wrath seems, well, more than a little “Old Testament,” something that doesn’t really need to be said if you’re looking to bring in the unchurched. Even that young preacher of ours wasn’t buying it totally or he have mentioned the holocaust at the river that ends the story.
Seriously, what scares me is hate and divisiveness. What scares me is fanaticism—the ideology of Islamic terrorism and the anger of the religious right. What scares me is what we all too easily do to each other and ourselves because we quite righteously believe God wants the bloody work done. What scares me is what we chase, what we dream, what we desire.
Today, quite honestly, God doesn’t scare me as much as I do.