Elijah remains one of the great heroes of Scripture. And everybody remembers that moment, when after three and half debilitating years of drought and famine, he and the wicked king Ahab meet once again.
But don't forget the backstory of their meeting. Three and half years earlier, unannounced Elijah strode into the monarch’s throne room with a thundering pronouncement: "'As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word'" (1 Kings 17:1). With that, he vanished. But don't miss the key phrase, "except at my word." I.e., this vagabond prophet held the key to any recovery from the nation's devastating calamity.
Insert here one more line from the New Testament to further illumine the backstory: "Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years" (James 5:17). Catch that? Elijah's prayers personally solicited the divine judgment on the land! So it was no idle threat for the prophet to declare the crisis would not end until he said so.
Another writer agrees: "Viewing this [national] apostasy from his mountain retreat, Elijah was overwhelmed with sorrow. In anguish of soul he besought God to arrest the once-favored people in their wicked course, to visit them with judgments, if need be, that they might be led to see in its true light their departure from Heaven" (Prophets and Kings 120 emphasis supplied).
He prayed it would not rain—and it did not rain. King Ahab's futile search for the pronouncer of doom over the intervening 1,260 days finally ends when the haughty monarch spots the prophet. "When he saw Elijah, he said to him, 'Is that you, you troubler of Israel?'" The blame game! "'I have not made trouble for Israel,' Elijah replied, 'But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the LORD's commandments and have followed the Baals'" (1 Kings 18:17-18).
Guess what. It's going to happen again, this notion of the majority blaming the minority for their ills. I did a double-take when a physician friend of mine out West alerted me to an op-ed headline a few days ago, "The Religious Right's Hostility to Science Is Crippling Our Response [to the Coronavirus Pandemic]" (New York Times, March 27, 2020). Using a paint-everybody-with-the-same-brush sort of logic, the op-ed writer essentially attempts to draw a line from hyper-reactionary evangelical responses to science over the last century and a half to the government’s response to our national pandemic today. Are evangelical Christians to blame? Hardly! But Ahab’s blame game is an easy one to play.
And it will happen again one day. "Satan is exercising his power. He sweeps away the ripening harvest, and famine and distress follow. He imparts to the air a deadly taint, and thousands perish by the pestilence [like the coronavirus]. These visitations are to become more and more frequent and disastrous. . . . And then the great deceiver will persuade men that those who serve God are causing these evils. . . . Thus [Ahab's] accusation urged of old against the servant of God [Elijah] will be repeated and upon grounds equally well established. . . . [The nation] will pursue a course toward God's ambassadors very similar to that which apostate Israel pursued toward Elijah" (The Great Controversy 590).
How then shall we survive, we who wait out this calamitous pandemic? The same way Elijah and all of God's friends through history have survived—casting ourselves upon His saving grace night and day, loving and caring for our neighbors, reflecting the self-sacrificing compassion of our Lord Jesus, volunteering to help in communities desperate for assistance, heeding the government’s mandated protocols for social isolation and virus containment, praying for those on the healthcare frontlines, interceding on behalf of a planet under siege, and calling upon God to open a new door through which we might yet reach our little worlds before Christ our King returns. We don’t have time to blame. God gives us the grace to help and to heal.