The trajectory of history has a certain hue to it. There are times when “the times” seem to be tending positively. Innovations in medicine, industry, and technology, revolutions in the sciences and the arts can make for an enthusiastic embrace of the age. These spans in mankind’s history are usually followed by severe dips in morale, to say the least. Just think about the juxtaposition between the optimism of the “Roaring Twenties” and the “Great Depression” which colored the 1930s. I’m no historian but I am a theologian (an aspiring one, at the very least), and this pattern is all over Scripture.
From our vantage point, though, the intricacies of those “times” are made clear as history plays out. The movements of the culture and economy make sense as we better understand the past. In the moment, however, we cannot make sense of it. “We’re very unreliable interpreters of the present,” notes Tim Kreider; “what we think is happening is — though we may not realize it till years later — not what’s really going on at all.” History bears this out on almost every point.
In our own present moment, we are very unaware of what’s happening. We are very often blinded by the “heat of the moment.” How do we cope with this as those in the church? More often than not, churchgoers are given to assuming the apocalypse is just around every corner. I think it’s funny how whenever each new worldwide predicament pervades the zeitgeist, the church white-knuckles John’s Revelation, fully expecting the rapture with every blink. We get jumpy whenever we hear a trumpet blast and we spend our days reading the tea leaves hoping to decipher the Bible’s End Time code. (There’s no code to decipher, by the way.)
As given as we might be to such ends, this isn’t becoming for those in the church. The apostles Peter and Paul certainly have much to say about such subjects. But in Ronald S. Wallace’s Elijah and Elisha: Expositions from the Book of Kings, we are greeted with one of the most invigorating paragraphs for those whose faith can’t help but see the times as a gross cocktail of tedious and tawdry ingredients. Wallace, here, provides commentary on the prophet Elijah’s sudden appearance in the narrative of 1 Kings. When he pops onto the scene in 1 Kings 17, it’s undoubtedly “startling.” And, well, I’ll just let Wallace take it from there:
Elijah appears on the scene with startling suddenness. Indeed, his appearance is a mystery. We want to know more about this man when we suddenly see him stand before the king. We want to know where he came from, where he was trained in the things of God. We want to know how he received his call to be a prophet to his time. But we know as little about him as Ahab knew about him, and it is better so. For to see him appear thus reminds us that we need not despair when we see great movements of evil achieving spectacular success on this earth, for we may be sure that God, in unexpected places, has already secretly prepared His counter-movement. God has always His ways of working underground to undermine the stability of evil. God can raise men for His service from nowhere. He can use “things which are not, to bring to nought things that are.” Therefore the situation is never hopeless where God is concerned. Whenever evil flourishes, it is always a superficial flourish, for at the height of the triumph of evil God will be there, ready with His man and His movement and His plans to ensure that His own cause will never fail.1
I have read and re-read this excerpt more than a dozen times now, and upon each reading I just want to shout, “Amen!” (You know, as good Baptists do.) Wallace’s words transcend Elijah’s appearance into the eye of Ahab’s iniquitous storm and remind us that even when it’s imperceptible to our eyes, God is working. He’s on the move. He’s already putting the finishing touches on his “counter-movement,” which, we can be sure, includes the crushing blow to the serpent’s head. There is no bruise which can bring him down. There is never a moment when he’s concerned about the trajectory of history and the establishment of his kingdom.
We can take heart, therefore, in the present, in our moment, because God is always working. We may not be able to see it, but we can rest assured that the Omnipotent One has never had a thwarted plan or upset purpose. Indeed, his plans never fail. His “counter-movements” always prevail.
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Ronald S. Wallace, Elijah and Elisha: Expositions from the Book of Kings (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013), 3.