This is a bit off-track as far as topics I normally put on this blog, but I have never sought to define appropriate topics too narrowly.
Years ago, I wrote a little article for our counseling center’s journal entitled, “Divine Intervention: The Flight of Elijah in Dialogue with Crisis Care.” You can see the article HERE.
I noted the story of God’s dealing with Elijah in his escape from Samaria to Mount Horeb. I noted the similarity between God’s response and the three step process used in crisis care, especially the NOVA system (Safety & Security, Validation & Ventilation, and Planning & Preparation). But part of the paper was also suggesting that Elijah’s flight was not an act of faithlessness, or of weakness. Rather it was a stress-overload, such as in burnout. (I don’t feel the need to justify people’s actions in the Bible. Many “heroes of the faith” act in ways quite sinful or foolish. I don’t however, see that being true of Elijah in this case. Elisha, the youths, and the bear— well, think that is a different matter.)
Recently, Fr. Ernesto Obregon wrote an article. Actually it is part of a doctoral course project. He quoted me quite a bit in it (which is always nice… at least when it is done in a positive way). His thesis is related, but a bit different. He is looking at the diagnosis of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). He suggested that the story of Elijah here could be seen as an account of PTSD.
In a sense, it doesn’t matter. However, PTSD has only being a formal diagnosis since 1980, and earlier iterations (Battle Fatigue or Shell Shock) only go back to around 1915). As such, the question can come up as to whether it is a valid condition to speak of at all.
Some Christians question any condition that is not specifically noted in the Bible. This may not make a lot of sense (does one have to find reference to cell phones in the Bible before believing they exist?). Regardless though, being able to identify the condition in antiquity places the condition more firmly as a part of the human condition, rather than simply as a culthural phenomenon.
Anyway, it is an interesting read, I think. You can read it HERE
(Don’t be thrown off by his referencing the book of Third Kings (III Kings). He comes from the tradition of Orthodox Christianity.)
Wrote an article, “Divine Intervention: The Flight of Elijah in the Context of Crisis Care.” If you want to read it, it is in the magazine that can be downloaded (pdf) at the link below. I think it is a pretty decent article on the topic (although even after about 5 or 6 cycles of editing there are still some annoying grammar… ah well.)
I was writing an article on crisis care within the context of the story of Elijah. It occurred to me how generally useless is miracles (as they are popularly identified). There are different ways to define “miracle” of course. However, I am using the most common, although doubtful, definition. That is, a miracle is a supernatural and visible demonstration of power that cannot be explained by “natural” (predictable/repeatable) means.
One problem with the definition is that any well-crafted paradigm can come up with an internally feasible explanation for nearly anything, so the definition above can mean nearly anything or nothing depending on who one is talking to. In other words there is likely no possible phenomena that could not be “explained” by the naturalist, or any other well-developed, paradigm (regardless of the validity of the explanation).
A second problem is that it implies that certain phenomena are more from God than others.
The definition above for miracles certainly seems to apply quite well with the story of Elijah – fire falling from heaven consuming a sacrifice drenched with water in a highly public event. Lightning or a meotorite strike stains credulity. Perhaps only the parting of the Red Sea fits this view of miracle better in the Bible. One is left with either attacking the historicity of the story, or assuming that chicanery is involved.
To me, however, the more important question is the long-term results of miracles. The writer of the Books of the Kings appears to give an ambiguous answer. The immediate response of the people bowing down to Jehovah God appears positive. However, there seems to be no general change in the trajectory of the people of the Northern Kingdom in their move toward idolatry. Additionaly, the king and queen (Ahab and Jezebel) appear to be unmoved by the event. Elijah runs off in fear feeling as if he is a failure. He runs to Mount Horeb (aka Mount Sinai where God presented His power to Moses). There, God does present Himself in power to Elijah and yet the writer appears to emphasize the ineffectivity of the show of power. First, it is mentioned that God was not in the powerful displays but in the gentle whisper speaking to Elijah. Second, the writer notes that Elijah’s feelings and complaints are identical before and after the “signs and wonders.”
That got me thinking. How effective were signs and wonders in the Bible? Again the evidence is ambiguous. Generally, miracles appear to be valuable in two basic roles:
Miracles have value primarily in the direct result. The parting of the Red Sea achieved the direct goal of allowing Israel to escape from the Egyptian army. This was important and necessary at the time. Christ’s healing was most importantly a compassionate reponse to illness.
Miracles get people’s attention, initially. Miracles get people to pay attention, but without a clear message to respond to, the miracle becomes lost.
3. Miracles do not appear to inspire long-term change. Love and truth inspire long-term change.
4. Miracles (as defined above) appear to be intentionally non-normative. This is a fairly obvious result of of reason #2 above. Miracles that are common-place no longer get people’s attention. As far as reason #1 above, one might imagine that miracles could always have value in direct result, but so many other means exist that better achieve the same result (Christians acting out of Christ-like sacrificial love is an obvious one), so, again, miracles only make sense if they are non-normative.
5. Miracles (even as defined above) are hard to identify. The main reason is that there is a vast gulf that cannot be bridged without faith. I am not talking about religious faith. Rather, it is the gulf between something being believable and it being compelling.
Lewis Carroll wrote “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles,” about the fact that syllogistic logic cannot be compelling. Any attempt to take logic to the point of being compelling without a leap of faith requires an infinite (never ending) regression. Douglas Hofstadter repeats and extends the idea in “Gödel, Escher, Bach.” Within the Christian understanding of faith, Søren Kierkegaard in “Fear and Trembling” repeats the same idea. Logic and evidence can only bring us so far. Logic and evidence can get us near the truth, but we ultimately need a “leap of faith” to embrace divine truth. Some feel that faith is only a religious thing, yet faith is needed (on some level) by everyone about pretty much everything because no evidence is inherently and completley compelling.
That is a problem with miracles. They don’t compel belief. In fact, their value appears to be pretty limited in this. Jesus did many miracles, yet few seemed to have been compelled to believe because of them. The Twelve appear to have followed Jesus because He had “the words of life,” not that He was a miracle worker. Many disciples fell away because of His words, despite His miracles. The skeptics kept asking for more signs and wonders, without becoming believers. In fact, Jesus did not do miracles on certain occasions when miracles were most sought after by the public.
Pentecost found the church growing from 120 to several thousand. There was a miracle involved, the ability to speak in languages that one had not previously learned, yet the value appeared to be its direct use… making the message of the gospel intelligible to people who have a different heart language. The miracle in itself appeared not to compel belief. After all, there was no way an outside observer could verify that it was miraculous. If someone began speaking in Farsi, I would have no way to be sure the person was speaking in Farsi (if I did not know the language), and I would have no way to know how the person came to speak Farsi in the first place (if I did know the language).
The early church did do miracles at times. The Bible text seems to downplay their role. The text that speaks most of signs and wonders (I Cor. 12-14) actually attempts to provide limits and perspective to their role. The post-NT church even gives a lesser role, only rarely mentioning them in the writings of the church Fathers.
Why does this matter? There has been a lot spoken on signs and wonders as an appropriate (or even necessary) method of missions outreach. I don’t see that as Biblically or logically sound. Some suggest that it is useful or necessary in animistic cultures. If it is true in animistic cultures then it is probably true in most cultures since folk religion in most cultures has a similar focus on manipulation of supernatural power for personal benefit. So… if power encounter/“signs and wonders” is a necessary part of God’s witness in animistic societies, it seems like it would have been a more common (and more effective) witnessing tool in the NT Jewish and Hellenistic cultures.
I am sure there is a place for “signs and wonders” in Christian work. However, the direct benefit of miracles (the immediate corrective nature of the act) and getting the people’s momentary attention seems to be the key values here. Actual change and faith will not come from miracles. Rather they will come from evidence of God’s love and God’s word. I fear that the focus on signs and wonders as an evangelistic tool comes from our own lack of of characteristics of godliness that can be seen by others.
Living out our call as the voice, hands, and feet of Christ will always be our best evangelistic tool in any culture.
I have been a bit down on “Power Encounter” as a missiological method… especially in this blogsite. Power Encounter has been popularized by Charles Kraft whose understanding has been affected by his work in West Africa. He found the animistic beliefs there made the people receptive to Christianity marketed in terms of power. And perhaps that is the best way to present God’s message in West Africa… I wouldn’t know. However, some people have sought to normalize power encounter to the point that some feel that it is a necessary or preliminary step to conversion. I don’t see this at all. Paul pointed out that Jews seek a sign and Greeks seek wisdom. To assume that everyone must go through a logical or philosophical argument of belief prior to conversion (based on Greek ideals) makes as much sense. But even within the Jewish ideal, the role of power encounter seems to be questionable as a missiological method. To demonstrate this, I would like to take one of the two clearest ex
amples of power encounter in the Bible… Elijah and the prophets of Baal.
The story of Elijah’s encounter with the priests of Baal is in I Kings 18, while Elijah’s encounter with God is in I Kings 19. Please read these passages if you are uncertain about the details of this part of Elijah’s life.
Elijah won a power encounter with the priests of Baal. What were the results of this:
1. Over 400 priests of Baal were killed
2. People on Mount Carmel fell facedown and said “Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!”
3. Apparently, prophets of God were able to minister somewhat more freely in the Northern Kingdom
These all sound pretty good, but there are some questionable points as well.
1. Having false priests executed would not be considered an acceptable missiological goal today.
2. There is no real evidence that the people’s cries to God led to a long-term change of heart. The drift away from God continued in the Northern Kingdom.
3. While King Ahab appeared to be more open to listening to God’s prophets, there was no major change, and his son was still a follower of Baal.
So, there is (in my mind) some clear doubt that power encounter is generally a good missions method. In fact, the use of power encounter (even in broad definition) is relatively uncommon in the Bible.
So let’s look further in this passage. If Elijah’s relationship with the priests of Baal was Power Encounter, then the relationship between God and Elijah was Love Encounter.
After the priests of Baal, Elijah went back to the royal court, probably part of his victory lap. But there he found out that Queen Jezebel was unmoved by the power encounter and planned to have Elijah killed (a reverse power encounter).
Elijah ran for his life. Some find this confusing or demonstrating lack of faith. But let’s be honest. Elijah did his most awesome miracle and thought he was done. He found out that he was wrong and could soon be killed. He had a CRISIS. His response was normal. It was a “normal response to an abnormal circumstance.”
How did God deal with Elijah? He dealt with him in a loving manner. Curiously, the way God did it was quite similar to the crisis response method taught by NOVA (National Organization for Victim Assistance). NOVA has a three step system:
A. Safety and Security
B. Ventilation and Validation
C. Prediction and Preparation
A. Safety and Security. God allowed Elijah to escape a dangerous situation and go to where he felt emotionally secure and physically safe. Elijah was not running from God, he was running to Mount Horeb (Sinai). Elijah was running to God. God actually sent him an angel to feed him and give him drink so that he had the strength to continue his journey. During this time God did not speak to Elijah. Some would call this a “Ministry of Silence.” In a time of crisis, people need a time to get to a place of safety and feel emotionally secure. They also need some silence to begin to process their experience. This is exactly what God did. God gave him 41 days.
B. Ventilation and Validation. Elijah arrived at Mount Horeb and wanted to die. God asked him “What are you doing here?” This gave Elijah an opportunity to ventilate. Elijah expressed his anger (with God), his fear, his aloneness, and his frustration. God did not correct him at this time. God did not get angry. He did not try to justify Himself to Elijah. Then God did something kind of strange. He showed His power to Elijah, but it was made clear that these signs of power were not God or where God was. Rather, it was in a small voice with Elijah. Again, God gave Elijah the opportunity to ventilate without being criticized. The first step was a “Ministry of Silence”, but this part was a “Ministry of Presence.”
C. Prediction and Preparation. After giving Elijah ample time to ventilate, Elijah was ready. He had worked through the past, he was ready to look to the future. God gave him new tasks. He was to anoint two people as kings. Then he was to get a helper. Not only was this a new task, but this was to prepare him for new tasks (since being alone is difficult for someone in ministry). Only at this point does God correct some of Elijah’s bad thinking (not during the ventilation/validation stage) when He tells Elijah that he is not alone… there are others also faithful to God.
This is a Love Encounter. God revealed Himself to Elijah in a way that contrasted the fickle world around him. What were the results of this Love Encounter?
1. Elijah was revitalized for ministry
2. A second prophet was brought in and trained for long-term ministry
This is definitely missiological.
Reiterating, there may be times when Power Encounter is useful, but there are questions about its real effectivity. But Love Encounter is definitely missiological effective.