What are you doing here?


A contemplation of I Kings 19:13 (NLT)

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

In this familiar story, Elijah, the prophet, was, from his perspective, at the back end of a pretty rough experience. Being a prophet of the “one true God” meant telling people what they didn’t want to hear and being the embodiment of faithful obedience.

He had challenged powerful mortals and their god(s) risking his own life and those of his close allies. Prophets like him were falling by the thousands and the constant running away from danger had taken its toll on his spirit. Elijah asked to die.

In his deepest despair he was comforted and guided by angels who urged him to eat because he needed his strength for the journey ahead. Surely, there was nothing more that he could possibly do with a bounty on his head.

Some scholars have said that he was depressed.

I suppose that’s a possibility. He was overwhelmed for sure.

In the verses leading up to this question from God, Elijah says “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I alone am left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.”

He doesn’t sound like the man who was the instrument used to end a drought because God said so.

He didn’t seem to remember that a relatively short while ago, he was able to start a fire with water because God told him to.

He has heard God before and he listened. He answered God’s call and yet somehow he now feels that the consequence of having done so is emptiness.

How many of us have answered God’s call on our lives and have zealously served God’s purpose only to feel time and time again like we are used up – overwhelmed and left alone?

Elijah is feeling this emptiness in the midst of speaking directly to God. It is as though Elijah only expects to see/feel God’s actions in monumental ways. But God was not in the earthquake… or the terrible blast of wind... or even the fire. God is present in the emptiness of Elijah’s situation – in the tenderness of a whisper.