God may be all-powerful, but he has an odd way of showing it. He tends to work his power through weakness, brokenness, even a cross. Where sinners use violence to overthrow and dominate, God uses martyrs and simple words. In the face of a world consumed with domination, suppression, oppression and violence, what do we make of the God whose most powerful actions are often nothing more than mere words?
Imagine yourself a person who makes great sacrifices because your faith is deeply meaningful to you. You leave your home, give up lucrative opportunities, and suffer constantly for your decision to live out your calling. Your love for God keeps you from getting bitter, but with each additional trial and tribulation things don’t get easier, they get harder. Doubts creep in and second-guessing happens. You know you are doing what you are supposed to, but you find it difficult to stop the intrusive thoughts that you made a mistake. So you spin your mind round and round, rethink past decisions until you finally decide what needs to change for things to be better, healthier, more as they should be. You plan your work and work your plan. Things get better. You find your rhythm; you get excited again. For awhile. Then you cycle back round and find yourself in that same place of confusion, but a confusion that exists and is situated within a context that still, stubbornly perhaps, knows you are living out your calling. And yet, something about it all seems off…
Then one day—I know this is dramatic—but one day you discern that you have to give up this ministry, this calling. What? You think, after all this effort, after all my work?
Maybe that’s not too far off from how Elijah felt when God told him, “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan” (I Kings 17:3). Notice the language—hide yourself. Why would a God of vast power, a God who can fix our problems or empower us to do great things in our callings, ask us to hide? For hiding is the last ditch effort of the powerless. It is the action of the victim in the face of an oppressor. It is the last hope of a person utterly out of options, a sort of dramatic act of being forgotten, or at least being invisible.
We learn the occasion for the hiding in I Kings 17. There, Elijah has just delivered God’s verdict upon Ahab and his kingdom. There will be years of drought. It must have felt and good and powerful to deliver that word to the King, to be God’s powerful mouthpiece, to speak and threaten for the Almighty. But from such a high Elijah is brought low: “Go hide...”
It is only as we read on that we learn why God has made Elijah hide. This brook, called, Cherith, will not be affected by the drought. And in an amazing act of grace, God will send ravens two times a day to feed Elijah, the world’s first delivery food service, even beating Amazon on flight-delivered packages.
But this isn’t just a story. We should see ourselves as Elijah. It is often the case that God makes us weak so that we can receive his grace. Notice how I said that, so that we can receive his grace. God’s grace in the Gospel is received, “for me” when I repent and believe. God even helps us trust in his announcement of Good News. But it still remains that as sinners our pride must be crushed before we can repent. Belief comes when we accept the free gift of God that is not of our own doing. It is in our weakness therefore, when we find our hands empty and naked that we find God’s power.
In our weakness God sends the ravens. In our failure, God provides living water. In our sin, God hides us under his Son’s righteousness [i.e. perfection]. Paul says, “The word of the cross [i.e. the Gospel] is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved [.i.e. believers] it is the power of God” (emphasis mine, I Cor. 1:18). In other words the power of God is made known in that place where we must hide, when we are weak, when we are open and even confused. As Martin Luther famously once said, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” Paul continues, “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God (I Cor. 2:3-5).”
It is amazing to think the apparently bold Paul was terrified and trembling as he lived out his calling. But he recognizes this failure of nerve on his part wasn’t a determent to the Gospel but something God used. Paul’s point: The power of God is the Gospel. That power is demonstrated practically—those who are weak, scared, unable, foolish, not up to the task—get the greatest gift of all, the gift that cannot be earned but only received in that place of hiding: Jesus Christ. Mere words they may be, but they are creative words. The Gospel does what it says it will do. God’s power is so powerful it need not condescend itself to the world’s standard of domination, violence and fear. The Gospel breaks the chains of sin, guilt, pride and self-righteousness by pointing us to the Powerful One who broke the cords of death and hell. And he is our King, our Savior, our High Priest.
And it is to us weaklings, those hidden in Christ, who are best enabled to be Christ’s representatives, his ambassadors to a world that scorns the apparent weakness of a crucified man. But in God’s great reversal, the Shamed Man whom Rome displayed as conquered-failure, God shows as Triumphant-Victor.
So wherever you find yourself today, look to the cross. Look at the double-deep message of conquered-victor. Run away from your own attempts to win today, or to dominate or control your future. Run instead into the hiddenness of Christ. Rest in the forgiveness of sins. See your weakness for what it is, God’s conduit to make you strong within it. Hide, and watch the ravens come…
Bruce Hillman is Lead Pastor at Hillside Lutheran Brethren Church (www.hillsidelbc.org) in Succasunna New Jersey. He Holds a BA in History and Political Science from Quinnipiac University, (Hamden, CT), an MDiv. from the Lutheran Brethren Seminary (Fergus Falls, MN) and an STM in Patristics from Drew University (Madison, NJ); his research involves Augustinian studies and Early Christianity. He is former pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Henning MN. He is co-founder of Fifth Act Church Planting, having served on their board (www.fifthactchurchplanting.com) Bruce enjoys cooking, reading, all things British, exploring the world of wine, and conversations with good friends.