Saturday, June 17, 2006

Destructive Confrontation

About 15 years ago, one of my managers showed us the "East Coast to West Coast Executive's Translation Guide," which included such gems as "Action item for Joe by 2/21" translated to "Joe's looking at that." Another item was "Punch his lights out" translated to "constructive confrontation". Was that in bad taste? Sorry about that. Anyway, that gives a flavor of what's about to happen in today's reading.

Ahab was this nasty king of Israel. By the way, in this section of the history, "Israel" (sometimes "Ephraim") generally refers to the ten northern tribes; the historian usually says "Judah" to mean the two southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin). Anyway, Ahab (Did Melville name the captain in Moby Dick because of Ahab's character, or for some other reason?) was nasty. He "did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.... he also married Jezebel... and began to serve Baal and worship him." (1 Kings 16.30) Basically, no rain falls in the land of Israel for a few years. Then the prophet Elijah meets Ahab:
Ahab went to meet Elijah. When he saw Elijah, he said to him, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?"

"I have not made trouble for Israel," Elijah replied. "But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the Lord's commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table."

from 1 Kings 18.16-19
One destructive confrontation coming up. Ahab assembles the people and these prophets. Elijah confronts the people: "How long will you waver...? If the
Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." The people just stood there looking at each other. (18.21)

I think we need something like this today. We need it in our world, we need it in our country, and we need it in our churches. And, yes, I need it in my life. What are we really after? Today I have to confess that a big part of my thinking is what Morley (in The Man in the Mirror) calls "the smooth, wrinkle-free life". Is that my god, my idol?

In our churches, do we want the Kingdom of God to grow in strength and depth and breadth? Or do we want to protect our turf, smooth over conflicts, advance our pet programs and projects? And in our nation... well, what can I say? Do we want to protect the weak, the last, the least, and the lost, or do we want to kill off people who are too old, too young, too inconvenient, too sick? Do we think it's OK to concentrate wealth more and more in the hands of the powerful few, while many of our own citizens struggle with illiteracy and poverty?

In Elijah's time, the answer was a clear-cut confrontation. It makes me think of some of Clancy's novels, where solutions are relatively simple -- find the bad guys and kill them. And on the way, convince the wavering to make the right choice.

So, as the title hints, Elijah had a destructive confrontation with the evil prophets. Their god didn't do anything, but the
Lord answers Elijah's prayer spectacularly, the people all say, "The Lord, He is God!" and Elijah has them kill all the false prophets.

But as we'll see tomorrow, things don't all work out to the good. Even in those days, solutions were not all that simple.

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