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Friday, May 6, 2022

Stuck Between the World and God: How I Almost Died in Indecision

Stuck Between the World and God

Some texts mark you for life. As Jacob, you grapple with them, and though you come away with a blessing, you leave with a limp. You think differently. You pray differently. You love, speak, and act differently. Life as it was before can be no more.

Elijah’s question to the wavering people of Israel has been such a text for me. As a young college student, alone in my dorm room with a Bible I had just started reading, I came to it:

How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. (1 Kings 18:21)

When I read it on my futon, it was as though I witnessed the scene unfold firsthand.

“Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” The wicked king addressed the prophet he had hunted like a deer in the forest. He sneered. Not often did the prey beckon the hunter or the fish, the fisherman. But here, weaponless and alone, the prophet emerged from his hiding place to challenge his pursuer, and all of his prophets, to a public showdown.

“I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals,” Elijah replied. “Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table” (1 Kings 18:18–19).

Ahab happily complied.

News spread quickly; the people of Israel clamored around to see the spectacle. I took my place among the masses. The excitement was palpable as prophets and their gods prepared for war. Baal’s king and his army of prophets stood in one corner; the Lord’s prophet approached alone, taking his position in the other.

Pierced Without a Weapon

Yet as the prophet advanced toward the mountain to face off with the hundreds of prophets, Elijah’s eyes of fire rested elsewhere. He gazed at us, drew near to us. The contestant walked over to the crowd, slowly looking us over, and lifted his voice for all to hear,

How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If Yahweh is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him. (1 Kings 18:21)

Weaponless, he shot the first arrow. Swordless, he cut me to the heart. Alone, I trembled to hear another speaking.

As I read those words, a lifetime of spiritual indecision flashed before my eyes. It took shape before me. The amphibious creature, offspring of a hearty worldliness and brittle religiosity, reared its head. It bore the horrible beauty of a demon. This angel of light had pleased and soothed my half-waking conscience for a lifetime, while remaining false enough to damn my soul.

This god I followed took no issue with the lukewarmness — the starts and stops, the ins and outs of what I took to be Christian devotion. None of my prophets interrupted me, nor protested when I went my own way. For over a decade, my god was compliant, polite, civil. He did not ask for much, nor threaten me, nor ask me to do anything I did not already agree to. He sat in the corner of the world, just smiling at me, his beloved.

If He Be God

The prophet, however, served another God. A jealous God. One who would not endure the waffling another moment. And this prophet burned with his Master’s fire. Elijah decided that if he was walking headlong into his death, he would leave his half-hearted people with a simple question: How long, O faithless bird, will you go fluttering back and forth between two branches?

We, the people, were the only ones undecided before that mountain. The priests of Baal were decided, even to the point of shedding their blood. They cut themselves with swords to invoke an answer from Baal. King Ahab was also decided. He and his wicked wife Jezebel hunted down Yahweh’s prophets and feasted with Baal’s. Elijah was decided. He stood alone before a spiritual legion of darkness, sure that his God could swallow all these mighty minnows.

At this, a nearly novel thought pressed against my mind: A God, if he be God, must be totally followed. Any true God must be completely obeyed. He demanded a decision. He must be the most important reality in one’s life. Then the amazing conclusion that I professed for years finally caught up with me: I believed God existed. An eternal being, an infinite Person, a supreme monarch.

Elijah looked me in the eyes and said, If the world or your flesh or you yourself be god — follow them. Eat, drink, for tomorrow you die. But if the God of Scripture is God, then reason, justice, and sanity itself cries aloud: If this Glorious, Mighty, and Beautiful God will have you, you must follow him — unreservedly, unquestionably, unhesitatingly.

How did I answer the prophet?

“And the people did not answer him a word” (1 Kings 18:21). I joined the crowds in solemn silence.

The most daring among us held their tongue. Tough guys didn’t protest. Not a chirp was heard before the mountain; all beaks were stopped. What could we say in our defense?

If Christ Be God

Before the sun beat upon the forsaken and bloodied prophets of Baal, before fire fell from heaven and gave the outmanned Elijah decisive victory, before the people rallied and slew the priests and Elijah ran for his life, the prophet’s question seared me: How long will you go on indecisive?

How many more days and months and years will pass while you still pretend to have made up your mind? “If Christ be God, follow him. If the world, follow it.”

Has Elijah’s question lost its edge? To others not refusing to associate with Jesus, yet simply adding him to a collection of other allegiances: “How long will you go on fluttering between two branches?” Between Christ and the love of money. Between Christ and this world. Between Christ and your favorite sin. Between Christ and your comfortable, uninterrupted life.

How long, professing Christian, will you too live halfhearted, half-bowed? How much longer will you persist with half-waking commitments to Christ? How long will you think to give him the loose change of your attention, the crumbled bills of your affections? “If Jesus is God, follow him; but if your girlfriend be god, your reputation be god, your earthly pleasures and career be god — then follow them.”

Footsie with the Almighty

“I the Lord your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). “You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God)” (Exodus 34:13–14). One cannot play footsie with the consuming fire for long.

The Christian God is God, and he will not sit idly by within a pantheon of other gods and pleasures. He entertains no rivals. Friendship with the world is adultery and enmity against him (James 4:4). This text, and this reality, God used to shake me awake and bring me to Jesus.

Dear reader, is your Jesus really God? If he is God — and the Jesus of the Bible is God — then follow him. I long for fire to fall again, pleading with Elijah, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back” (1 Kings 18:37).



from Desiring God http://rss.desiringgod.org/link/10732/15278075/stuck-between-the-world-and-god
via DG