By Scott Giger
From time to time, everyone feels like they are alone. It might be a time of real isolation, when there is truly no one around you. We might think of these as Bear Grylls’ moments (host of the TV show “Man v. Wild”). Sometimes this can be terrifying. You realize that there is not another soul to effectively help you should something go wrong. At the same time, all is tranquil. There are not sounds of others. There is a complete absence of the distractions of humanity. This can be exhilarating. There is another form of solitude that is discovered in the midst of people. It could happen walking down the street of a large city that is not familiar to you. As a visitor, you know no one. Though there are hundreds, even thousands, of people around you, you are alone. The most challenging loneliness comes in the midst of people who are your own. You find yourself feeling that no one understands you. Listening to a conversation, you discover that you have a completely different outlook than everyone else in the group. Your worldview just doesn’t match up. It may be a moment when you feel like your concerns and cares for the world are unique from those who are closest to you. This is the most isolating loneliness one can experience.
From time to time, everyone feels like they are alone.
Elijah, the great prophet of the Old Testament, experienced all three of these types of isolation. He experienced a loneliness that has seldom been felt. (You should read about this in 1 Kings 18-19.) It came at a rather pivotal moment in his ministry. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah rolls into Samaria like a Wild West gunslinger and strikes fear into the hearts of everyone, right up the king. In fact, King Ahab calls him the “Troubler of Israel.” Elijah decides to demonstrate his complete and utter separation from those who were not living up the their calling as children of God. He has all the people summoned. He invites 850 prophets of false idols to come meet him. He stands before king and crowd and declares a challenge: my God versus your gods. The god who answers the call to sacrifice by sending fire to the altar is the true God. All parties stipulate that this is a fair challenge. The fortitude and confidence that Elijah demonstrates that day can only be heaven sent. Yet, in the midst of the huge crowd, Elijah is alone. The challenge goes on for more than a day, Elijah taunts and prompts, incites and insults as the prophets of Baal and Asherah call on their gods. The false gods, who are really no gods at all, do not answer the call. Finally, Elijah gets his turn. He arranges the sacrifice confidently and boldly. He asks servants to dump gallons of water over the altar and the sacrifice. The trench that they had dug around it was also filled. Elijah calls on the name of the Lord one time. The fire descends and consumes the entire sacrifice, the altar and all of the water. It was an unequivocal answer. The people are filled with terror at this. God had spoken by fire. There is a brutal end to this account, as all of the false prophets are put to death. (No one ever said that the Bible was a children’s story.) The fear that fills the people isolates them further from Elijah. Alone in the midst of people, Elijah is forced to flee as a foreign queen named Jezebel vows to kill him. Escaping to the mountains, Elijah finds himself completely isolated from other people. It is just him and the mountain. He falls on his face and cries out to God, “I am all alone. It is too much for one person to handle!” What ensues is one of the most well-known events of Elijah’s life. God sends fire and calamity, but does not visit Elijah in any of them. Then finally, Elijah hears the whispering voice of God. The voice speaks his name. God tells him that he is not alone. In fact, Elijah was never alone. He is told that there are 7,000 prophets who are yet faithful. Beyond that, the Lord himself had never abandoned Elijah. The Lord, the true God, had always been with him. Elijah descends, leaving behind the solitude of the mountain. He encounters Elisha, who will be his successor and protégé. Once again, he is reminded that he is not alone.
Elijah hears the whispering voice of God. The voice speaks his name. God tells him that he is not alone.
Now certainly this is a remarkable story. Is there any point of contact for us? Is this just too fantastic? Perhaps parts of it, sure. It is not a solid recipe for success to go and engage all of the false prophets in a risky and daring challenge–that was unique to Elijah. It is not commendable to stand in the midst of an assembled nation and declare yourself to be in opposition to them. Furthermore, God does not commonly speak in an audible voice. On closer examination of this account, we find a prescription for loneliness. First of all, God will always preserve a remnant of faithful people. If you feel isolation and loneliness because of your faith, immerse yourself in the fellowship of the faithful. Seek other believers. Find comfort in their faith, knowing that you may not agree on all things, but you both abide in the love of Jesus.
God will always preserve a remnant of faithful people.
Second, God has not abandoned you. The Lord, the only true God, has declared that you are never alone. He is with you always! God made you this promise in baptism. He renews this promise daily. You will find him in his Word, the Bible. You will hear him in the voice of other believers. You can speak to him in prayer.
God has not abandoned you.
Third, solitude and quietness are not bad. In fact, with so many distractions in the world, they are essential. Elijah flees to the wilderness mountains. Maybe you can flee to Gallup Park. Perhaps you need a quiet walk around your place of business or your dorm. Go where no one can hear you. Pray out loud to your God who has promised to hear you. Declare your loneliness, and ask God to uncover his purpose for it.
Solitude and quietness are not bad.
Finally, ask the Lord to bring you close to meaningful people for your faith. Ask God to reveal your Elisha. Again, this may not happen in such a dramatic way. God often acts subtly, quietly–in more of a whisper than a shout. Be open to the person that God wants you to walk alongside, to encourage.
Ask the Lord to bring you close to meaningful people for your faith.
God is faithful in the midst of all loneliness. Elijah discovered that he was not alone. You, dear child of God, are not alone.