How do you know? When you look at our world. When you see the trials, pain, and challenges in your own life or in the life of others, how do you know? What does that mean for our understanding of the nature of God? How can you trust that indeed God is good?
I have struggled with that little saying myself because if we are honest, it is hard to see how God is good sometimes. When children suffer. When war breaks out. When our family members are in pain. When our friends struggle with anything from infertility, job loss, and broken relationships, to financial stress, tragedy, or the loss of their own child, It doesn’t make sense. How is God good? I wonder if any of you have struggled to truly embrace, believe, and put your trust in knowing that God is good.
It wasn’t until I came to understand and reframe that little saying, and say, “yes, God works for good in all things all the time and all the time God works for good in all things.”
The story of the prophet Elijah helps us understand the goodness of God. 1 Kings 17 continues the story of a long line of corrupt and evil kings in Israealite history. King Ahab was one of them and ruled for twenty-three years. He was an Israealite King but he married a non-Israealite woman who practiced the religion of Baal worship. Baal was known as the god of fertility and also called the lord of rain and dew. Ahab and Jezebel perpetuated a culture of a tumultuous, free-for-all, polytheistic, believe what you want to believe but you better believe what the king, or in this case, what the king’s wife believes kind of atmosphere. Where honor and shame rule. Where position meant power. Money meant status. Connections meant control. And the more you have of any of those, the more secure your position in society, the more authority and influence you have over those with less, those who are outcast, deemed unworthy, and those who live on the margins of mainline society.
Enter Elijah, whose name means, “Yahweh is my God.” Elijah goes to King Ahab with a word and warning from God. He basically tells the King, you are not God, you do not have the power or authority of Yahweh God. He tells Ahab that there was no reality except the God of Israel, stressing that no matter how many other gods you put your trust, there is but one God above all and in that God is where your trust shall be.
It was the following statement however, that pushed Ahab over the edge: “As surely as God lives, the God of Israel before whom I stand in obedient service, the next years are going to see a total drought…” (17:1) That did not sit well with the king who worshiped a god of rain and dew. The Spirit of God tells Elijah to get out of town for his own safety.
That is where things change for Elijah. This bold, courageous, spirit-filled, nothing will stop me prophet, now must learn that he too must completely trust that God is good and will provide and protect him in surprising ways.. He learns this in the most unexpected way, through the actions of a widow, who doesn’t even believe in Yahweh God. She is a nobody with no standing, worth, or significance in that society. She was not an Israelite, but a foreigner. In other other words, God's command to Elijah sends the faithful prophet to receive nourishment from outside all the expected and predictable places of well-being. (Brueggeman 81).
What does this tell us? What does it take to trust God? Strength? Status? Answers? Influence? Power? Highly developed spiritual formation and discipleship skills and practices? None of that. To trust God takes vulnerability.
Who are the most vulnerable among us? In Elijah’s day it was orphans, widows, and strangers (foreigners). Both the widow and Elijah are vulnerable in this interaction. Out of her vulnerability, she provides food, water, and a place to stay for this stranger. From Elijah’s vulnerability, he experiences the faithfulness of God even in the toughest of times and in unexpected circumstances. Elijah is sent by the Lord to depend on the gifts and resources of a “nobody.”
What is happening here is that God is doing what God does best: breaking into our ways of thinking, challenging our ways of doing, and turning on end, our ways of being with the purpose of using the absolute unexpected to show us we can depend on God no matter what. To show us even when we think we know, there is more to learn. To show us that God’s goodness is made known through our courageous acts of vulnerability.
God works for good in all things, all the time. All The time, God works for good in all things. May we have the courage to trust such truth. Amen
Pastor Jenothy Irvine