The Journey is Too Great For Me

I won’t lie. The last few months have been a difficult time, of waiting and of frustration. I am called to do something I cannot be right now, I cannot find paying work (and I am trying), Jennifer and I are nearly destitute, and we have to find another place to live soon. Which I’m hoping will be solved by work. But there are no guarantees right now.

I am frightened. I feel useless and very isolated, and wonder if anything will ever be any better. Or even any different.

The last couple of days, I’ve been reading Oliver O’Donovan’s 1996 book The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology, and that will get a proper review here (I’m taking lots of notes). He does an amazingly close reading of scripture, I’m in awe of that, and as he deals with prophetic responses to monarchy, he mentioned this bit of 1 Kings which I had forgotten.

It’s the run-up to Elijah being sent out into the wilderness, where he is then told to “go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And God passes by in wind, and earthquake, and fire, but Elijah doesn’t hide his face from the true presence of God until he hears a “low whisper” or a “thin silence.” And then he makes his complaint, his plea, to God:

“I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:14 ESV)

At the risk of sounding slightly over-dramatic, this is honestly where I feel like I am right now.

The Lord dispatches Elijah to Damascus, where he will anoint a king over Assyria, over the northern kingdom of Israel, and where he will also call a successor, Elisha.

This reading, where god truly is present in the “low whisper,” is in the lectionary, and we like it. It’s God truly present in the quiet, small things, not the mighty destructive things, the acts of great power.

But it’s what comes before that struck me. Elijah possesses the power to predict a drought (and maybe to cause it), to pronounce an end to that drought (or bring it about), and to call down fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice to the Lord in his contest with Jezebel’s 450 priests of Baal, and the courage to order them killed when the Lord proved faithful against Baal.

And yet Elijah, who stood with that courage, fears Jezebel, who has threatened to make the same end of him he made of her priests. Elijah is afraid. And he flees. And he is tired.

3 Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.

4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 5 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” 6 And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. 7 And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” 8 And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:3-8 ESV)

Elijah despairs. He is done, he wishes for death because he feels himself no better off now than his ancestors who lie decaying in the ground. God does not answer immediately. He meets an Angel who commands him to eat. He goes back to sleep, and again, an Angel wakes him and commands him to eat.

“Arise and eat,” the Angel tells him, “for the journey is too great for you.”

For the journey is too great for me.

I am not sure I want to go on. I’m not sure if anything good or meaningful will come out of what I am doing. I have been betrayed and expelled, I feel useless and isolated and unwanted, and here I am, still in the wilderness.

There are days I hate this call, wish I could let it go and throw it away. Do something else. Be someone else. As I’m sure Elijah did.

“Arise and eat,” the Angel tells him, “for the journey is too great for you.”

“…Give us this day our daily bread…”

I hate daily bread. I truly, truly hate it. I hate knowing I haven’t earned it by honest labor in more than a year, labor I cannot seem to find no matter how hard I try. I hate knowing I am dependent on manna from heaven, from grace doled out a day at a time, that I cannot earn and save and keep for myself.

But I have never lacked it.

Elijah arose, he ate an drank, and went “on the strength of that food” for a long time in the wilderness. Forty days. Moses was up the mountain that long, receiving the teaching from God. Jesus was in the wilderness that long, being tempted by the Devil. Forty days. As long as necessary. Until it was completed. God knew the journey was more than he could do on his. He needed the manna, the fortifying food of God. He could not do what was commanded of him, could not make the journey, without the strength God gave him.

I suspect Elijah did not jump up and skip toward Horeb, with a smile on his face and a song on his lips, where he came face-to-face with God. He probably groaned, “Again? More? Does this ever end?” He probably trudged part of the way there, his body occasionally aching with despair. Resigned but resolved. Grumbling and sullen but determined. “Sigh… I’m not sure what the point of this is. But it doesn’t end here. Not yet.”

The journey is too great for me. I’d rather not go on.

But here I go. Into the wilderness. For as long as it takes.

3 thoughts on “The Journey is Too Great For Me

  1. Charles and Jennifer,
    I grieve as I read this. I have been in similar places, and found that no words brought comfort. The fear, and desperation were overwhelming. I pray that as the days unfold that you will experience God’s grace in your life, and that doors will often. Even as I write these felt words, I know they offer little comfort, and may add pain. May God keep you. Bob

  2. The wilderness bites, in every sense. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us … but like Elijah, not like Caesar. I ask God now and always to sustain you and all the saints. Have mercy on us all, Lord.

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