My best friend and I were talking today about a short but intriguing book she’s reading, thus titled. We didn’t have a lot of time to play with the author’s analysis, but the title has stimulated my thinking since. The book apparently discusses in detail this question, posed to Adam and Eve, when He returned to the garden to visit again with them after letting them be for a time. They had made a profound choice, amidst a learning experience of coordination and communication with each other, to embark on mortality. They were gravely unsure where this left them.
Unsurprised by these sorts of things, from Adam or Eve or any of us, the Lord came to them not with an accusation, but with a centering, thought-provoking question. In order to understand the question, we have to understand the story. It’s a grand metaphor, constructed (in the Bible) in the form of an intricate Hebrew poem, quite possibly by Moses. This metaphor was so ubiquitously understood in the social consciousness prior to that, that it appears in every pre-Christian civilization’s mythology. Just as the story we have of the world’s creation is playfully layered by a literate thinker, so the story of the human creation we have is.
What is the question the Lord asks of our first ancestors, after their most vital decision, and of whose activities He’s entirely aware? “Where art thou?” To the casual reader, as with the entire poem, it seems a simple question of logistics. We look deeper, however, and we see the Lord asking them to describe in their own words where they find themselves at the present moment.
Elijah was asked a similar question. He had tried to warn the people, and tried to warn a king. He’d been told to show miracles, and he’d been told to close the heavens. He’d weathered the drought along with everyone else for three and half years, and he’d testified again before the king, then had to flee to the desert for his life. He slumped tiredly (good grief, he outran the king’s chariot as an old man) and told the Lord that he was ready to die. He’d done his work. The Lord said otherwise, gave him strength, and told him to travel for 40 days on it. He did. When he arrived, the Lord posed almost the same question to him as to Adam and Eve. “What doest thou here, Elijah?”
A simple reading would have us, in Elijah’s shoes, wanting to tear our hair out. “What am I doing here? Excuse me, I just went 40 days following your counsel. Perhaps you could tell me?” That’s not the question the Lord asked, and Elijah knew it. The question was, what is your situation, according to your understanding? Elijah felt alone, he felt he’d done all he’d been asked, he felt like it hadn’t made a difference, he felt he was done, and he said so. His words never cease to bring tears to my eyes, because I can feel the utter desolation of that feeling of failure and exhaustion emanating from the pages.
Both times of questioning were teaching moments. The Lord had something to say to Adam and Eve about the life they had chosen, and contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t a cursing. It was an explanation of the way things are. It was His perspective, given after He’d asked them to clarify their perspective, and it was meant to edify. The Lord had something to say to Elijah too, and even though He clarified that He doesn’t send messages through fires and storms and whirlwinds (didn’t everything Elijah had experienced feel like that level of drama?), Elijah still didn’t quite get the bigger picture, and when asked the same question again, he responded the same way. And then the Lord clarified, with the way things are.
It’s a really good story. It’s in 1 Kings 19. You should read it sometime when you feel overwhelmed. Genesis 3 for the other one.
Sometimes I find myself lost, overwhelmed, and tired … confused, unsure whether I’ve really messed up, and trying to pick my way through a bewildering gauntlet. At times like that, I’ve felt the hovering question, “What’s up?” I know He means, how would you describe what’s happening right now? There’s a process of refining our perspective that occurs when we try to put an answer to that question into words that’s vital for preparing us to hear His answer. It’s been enlightening to me, as it was to Adam, Eve, and Elijah, to muddle my way through as best I can, then to have Him tell me the way things are.
I’m grateful that He gives me a chance to work it out as best I can before He gives me a better answer. I’ve learned never to approach Him with a problem (or a question), without first expecting to answer that one from Him.