Sources, Reliable & Otherwise

Read 2 Kings 1-4 the other morning. Some pretty serious prophet action going on there with the passing of the mantle from Elijah to Elisha and Elisha doing some pretty heavy prophet work. He made a poisoned stew safe to eat, parted the river Jordon with Elijah’s robe, provided an endless source of oil for a widow and raised a boy from the dead. It is easy to read that section of Kings and just be blown away by the power of the prophet. And then miss the point of the whole thing.

We should be dazzled by Elisha’s performance here. I mean, it was really impressive! But the role of the prophet, a true prophet anyway, is never to draw attention to himself. So if we’re dazzled by Elisha and we don’t see beyond him we’re missing the point. So, smarty theology nerd, what IS the point of this section then? Well thank you for asking Mr. Head Voice Person! I happened to have spent most of my bus ride the other morning thinking about that very question. Yea. I know. I’m in your head, remember? Shhh. What. Ever.

What I think is going on here is tied to the story that opens the book. Ahaziah, King of Israel fell and was injured. He sends some men to inquire of a Philistine god whether he will live or not. Elijah interrupts the king’s messengers’ journey with the question “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub?” You can tell this question is important because it is repeated verbatim two more times in this chapter. The rest of that story is bad news for Ahaziah: he’s toast. But the episode sets up the next few chapters. As we watch Elisha go, we should have the same question echoing in our ears. Is there no God in Israel? Elijah was carried in to heaven by chariots of fire. Is there no God in Israel? The battlefield Israel and Judah drew up in against Moab is flooded when there was no rain and that lead to their ultimate victory. Is there no God in Israel? These miracles are intended to answer Elijah’s question for us.

I think I’m on the right track here because the same basic question is picked up again in chapter 5. Naaman comes to Israel to be cured and Israel’s king thinks he’s being set up by the king of Syria. Elisha tells the king that he will come so that Naaman “may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” (2Ki 5:8) The prophet is supposed to represent God to the people. If there is a prophet in the land, there is God in the land. Prophets don’t operate apart from God.

Now at this point we can click our tongues and wag our heads at those goofy Israelites. They just didn’t get it did they? Perhaps if we were there we’d’ve done better! Well, this is the part where the lesson gets personal. We’re more sophisticated than they were in those days. They had numerous regional gods who supposedly ruled over different territories. If another god seemed more powerful than yours, go make him happy and maybe things’ll go your way. But monotheism has pretty much routed those lesser gods. 1I think this is because of Jesus’ victory on the cross and in his resurrection. Sacrifices in temples were made to demons. (1 Co 10:20) Jesus defeated these lesser things and paraded them in humiliation. (Col 2:15) I think this is why polytheism is not the major world force it once was. Today we see naturalism attempting to put monotheism to flight in a similar manner. So if we can’t run to Baal-zebub for answers, where do we run?

Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of naturalism? Naturalism has the answers. Or most of them anyway. We are the product of our DNA and of our environment. Period. Medical science is picking our DNA apart to explain why we’re fat or thin, healthy or sick, shy or extroverted. Couple that with psychology’s quest to understand how cold parents or intolerant society have molded you to be who you are. Will I succeed? A DNA test and some time with the therapist will reveal all!

I’m not saying that everything naturalism says is wrong; much of what we’ve discovered about creation is right and a lot of it is helpful. The problem comes when we set up a false dichotomy between what is natural and what is supernatural. As if DNA and environment were the only way you got the traits you have. Or if these two processes operate on their own. No, God is the one who caused your DNA to produce a human being. God is the one who mixed your mother’s DNA and environment and your father’s DNA and environment in such a way as to create your DNA and environment. The natural doesn’t operate apart from the supernatural so don’t rush to naturalism for answers to questions about who you are and why you are the way you are. Their answers will be incomplete.

Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of youth? Will I live or die? That was Ahaziah’s question to Baal and judging from the magazines lined up in the supermarket, it is a question we’re asking today. Or consider these lines from Don Henley’s song The End of The Innocence:

For this tired old man that we elected king
Armchair warriors often fail
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales

The line is a slam against Ronald Regan and seems to long for a younger man in office. As if youth means that you’d be a better leader. We live in a culture of celebrity  and young people dominate the world of celebrity. But beyond young people, youth itself seems to hold out so much promise for us. Botox, face lifts, tummy tucks, hair implants, diet fad, all of it promises to keep us in a state of perpetual youth.

A friend of mine from seminary is from Kenya. While he was working on his PhD, he was thrilled to see a few gray hairs appear on the side of his head. In African culture gray hair is a sign of wisdom. You listen to the gray hairs, they’re the ones who’ve been around and they know. Remember, some young kids came out to make fun of Elisha’s bald head and 42 got torn up by bears. The Biblical patter is not to seek out youth but to heed the aged. That is the consistent plea in Proverbs. Youth is not the answer.

Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of technology? Oh, this on hits a little too close to me. I’m a bit of a technology geek so if this has the weakest charges and application you’ll know why.

Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors placed on an circuits will double every two years. That means a huge increase in computing power on a regular basis. So far it has been pretty accurate. And today everything has a computer in it from a greeting cards to toasters to toys. Technology seems to have almost unlimited power and it is everywhere. Surely this is somewhere to turn to answers to our problems and concerns! And the future of technology looks like it is heading toward implants. We’ll be integrating technology into our bodies. Cell phone headsets will be implanted under our skin. We will be instantly connected to the world without having to carry around blocks of plastic and this will improve our lives. Surely technology can deliver.

But can it answer? Doesn’t technology merely echo our thoughts and beliefs back at us? After all, someone programmed it and there is that “ghost in the machine” effect. Technology has no soul, it is ignorant of anything other than what is plugged into it. Unless there is a human behind it it cannot answer us well. And then that depends on the human and so we’re not really much better off.

Again, this isn’t to say that technology is evil. There are many wonderful benefits to smart phones and programmable microwave ovens and computer managed automobile engines.  The danger comes when we think that technology can answer all of our problems. Only God can do that and even the technology we prize is a gift from his hand. When we worship idols of our own fashioning, there is the very real danger we will become just like them. (Ps 115:4-8) It is possible that the internet is making us stupid.

1 I think this is because of Jesus’ victory on the cross and in his resurrection. Sacrifices in temples were made to demons. (1 Co 10:20) Jesus defeated these lesser things and paraded them in humiliation. (Col 2:15) I think this is why polytheism is not the major world force it once was.
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