Russell Moore: Real Christian Courage Looks like Elijah at His Most Pathetic

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My caution to those who “stand for truth” by calling down “fire from heaven” upon its enemies.

At the moments in life when I’m feeling especially scared, I’ve noticed that Elijah is the last person I want to see.

During one dark period, without any conscious decision, I remember altering my daily Bible reading of the Old Testament ever so slightly. I had been reading through 1 and 2 Samuel, then on into 1 Kings through the life of Solomon, when suddenly I veered over to the Psalms. As I thought about it, I became convinced I was avoiding that middle section of 1 and 2 Kings because I knew who was there: a prophet called Elijah. I wanted to avoid him the same way a laid-off person wants to avoid her “Employee of the Month” neighbor or the way an obese person wants to avoid his marathon-running brother-in-law. The comparison only highlights one’s inadequacies, whether real or perceived.

When we think of Elijah, we think of steely determination, the willingness to defy gods and kings, in scorn of the consequences. If you asked me as a child in Sunday school to draw a picture of Elijah, I would have drawn the scene on Mount Carmel, where he calls down fire from heaven. In that moment, Elijah is everything I want to be. He verbally spars with his opponents—sarcastically mocking their impotent god. He confidently pours water on his own sacrifice, he cries out to the skies, and then, with a bolt of incandescence, the fire falls.

That is strong; that is “prophetic.” And so, in moments when courage is lacking, I just want to do an end run around that hair-suited seer. But that’s harder than it may appear. Try to avoid Elijah in moving through the Bible, and one will find, much as King Ahab and Queen Jezebel did, that he has the annoying habit of showing up persistently, often …

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