I realized that I was just going to skip over a lot of Elijah’s story because it is so violent, so horrible to read. God gave him the power to call down fire — and he used it. Elijah killed a lot of people, and some of them just folks doing their job. There’s a lot of violence that Elijah (God?) do in the name of righteousness. This is very troubling. As if ignoring it would make it go away, that was what I was doing.
I don’t have any sort of answers. Is violence one of the tools of God, or used to be? Was that just a human perception or interpretation? Were the stories exaggerated to make a good tale? Our God is good but not tame? I just have questions but no answers.
I remember way back to high school, when I saw the “first” Star Wars movie, by which you all understand I mean the real one, with Luke and Leia and Hans and a Wookie. I went to school the following Monday and talked to a friend, telling her how much fun that movie was. She turned to me, eyes blazing. “A whole world was killed. A whole world. Millions or billions of innocent beings. And other innocents, just doing their job, were killed. And you had fun.”
I felt really bad, and really guilty, and walked away slowly and didn’t really talk to that friend about movies. It was just a story. No one really died.
Is that why the violence of Elijah’s story both troubles and doesn’t trouble me? It’s just a story. But it’s much more than a story.
It’s much more than a story, if I want to see how or if Elijah and John the Baptist are linked. The violence is there, and I don’t like it.
Thus my joy in discovering Luke 9:51-56.
Jesus is heading toward the events of the crucifixion in Jerusalem and he knows it, he is deliberately journeying there. Messengers go ahead to arrange hospitality as he travels, but a Samaritan village refuses to provide. James and John ask him: “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. And they went on.
Jesus rebuked them for asking for fire to destroy. Jesus rebuked them and wished no harm on the inhospitable village, just walked on, moved on, carried on. He had other fish to fry, to be sure, but I have no doubt that he also knew the whole story about why a Samaritan village would be against someone heading to Jerusalem; there was a big difference in theology between Samaritans and Israelites.
But we know that this is also directly referring to Elijah and to the sort of powers that perhaps James and John wished their Messiah would display. They were headed to Jerusalem for a glorious victory over evil and that would surely need fire from heaven and fighting and violence.
Jesus knew it would be a entirely different type of victory with an entirely different type of cost. And whatever the meaning of Elijah’s violence, and the violence in the Old Testament, to my mind, he rebukes that sort of thinking. He starts a new way.
And all Glory be with God! As so many songs say, how amazing is this grace, how beautiful is this love, this new way!