Elijah and Fire From Heaven – Greg Albrecht
Question from the United Kingdom:
You often make the excellent point that God is not nearly as mad at us as many religious leaders say, nor is he the God of wrath as they so characterize him. I agree, but what’s your take on the story of Elijah calling down fire from heaven to consume army captains and 100 soldiers? If it’s not an act of God, then how did Elijah accomplish this?
My take on this story. My faith is centered in and on the Cross of Christ. The symbol of my faith is the Cross, not the ashes of the bodies that resulted from the story related in the first chapter of 2 Kings. I do not wear a symbol of the ashes and burned bodies of people who are said to have opposed God, hanging as a necklace around my neck. Charred bodies are not the central focus of my faith. I do not worship a God of wrath or war, but a God of love.
What’s my take? My take is that God is presumed to have said and done many things, according to written reports in the Old Testament. What exactly he did or did not do is clarified when God came in the person of Jesus and the man Jesus fully revealed the Father.
To further explain:
“No Shadow of Turning”
1) God is God. He was God in the Old Testament, he was God in the New Testament and he is God now. There is no shadow of turning with him. See James 1:17.
2) But, the Old Testament records God doing, authorizing and saying things that are not repeated in the New Testament – in fact, in some cases they are repealed or done away with, and further, even repudiated.
3) So how do we reconcile such differences – does it lead us to ask, as one person said, “when did God become a Christian?” Perhaps it’s more a matter of observing when people become Christ-followers their focus and perspectives change. Their focus and perspectives change because Jesus, his teachings, his life, death and resurrection are the foundation of their faith, and they evaluate and perceive everything beyond that focus, even Old Testament passages, in that light.
“God in the Flesh”
4) As I read the Old Testament and I see contradictions of my faith as expressed and revealed and demonstrated in Jesus, God in the flesh, I evaluate the Old Testament by the New. If there is a vast discrepancy with my Christ-centered and cross-centered faith, then something is amiss. Jesus says love one’s enemies, but there are instances in the Old Testament when God is said to have ordered genocide of a people group, men, women, children and animals. Was this God, or is it possible that people were appropriating the name of God to justify their desire to wipe out their enemies? Just a question – I do not suggest a dogmatic answer other than what Jesus says and how we see and understand the substance of our faith given the gospel of Jesus Christ.
5) Could God be misrepresented in the OId Testament? Some say no – the Bible is infallible, without any error whatsoever. I say, with Paul, “let God be true, and every human being a liar…” (Romans 3:4). The Bible is a book, it is not infallible. The Word of God is Jesus (John 1:1) – he is perfect, infallible, and without error. We worship and follow Jesus, and everything else, including the book we call the Bible is perceived through the Jesus lens of God’s love, mercy and grace.
6) Some say if God is misrepresented in the Old Testament then the possibility for misrepresentation could happen in the New. I resolve this objection by believing the New Testament is the final word – Jesus is the Word. Jesus is the Center. It’s all about him. The Gospel is revealed in him. The fullness of God is seen in him. I also resolve this question by saying I do not pretend, nor should anyone, to perfectly understand God in all his fullness. Therefore, while the New Testament contains a far-more Christ-centered faith, I do not pretend to understand all “difficulties” within the New Testament.
“Speaking for God”
7) Could well intentioned authors in the Old Testament, before the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, think they were speaking for God when in fact they did not fully understand him, as New Testament authors did? I believe it’s possible. I believe in the progressive revelation of God in Christ – that is, for the first generation of Jesus’ peers, his disciples when he was alive, there was a certain level of understanding of Jesus. The book of Acts, immediately following Jesus’ resurrection, clearly demonstrates the deeper conversion of these same disciples, now called apostles. In addition, as Jesus is alive, as our risen Lord lives in all of us now and has done so in every generation since the first generation, I believe we are recipients of a deeper perception of Jesus (while at the same time, our world today and ever since the first-century has seen a great chasm of deception, normally at the hand of religious authorities, so there is no guarantee that everyone today enjoys a deeper understanding of and relationship with God than centuries gone by).
8) Can similar misunderstandings of God (as happened in the Old Testament era) be taking place today? Of course! Today many voices are dogmatically declaring what God wants – what political initiatives God favors and those he does not. I do not join such prevarications – they are off topic to my faith. Those who dogmatically claim to know exactly the “will of God” on almost every topic are to be, in my opinion, either taken with a grain of salt or ignored entirely. The gospel is my focus. The grace and love of God.
9) Could similar misunderstandings of Jesus, God in the flesh, have taken place even by his own disciples, before they had matured and grown in Christ and in the grace of God? In Luke 9:54-55 we read of the reaction of James and John when Jesus was not welcomed in a Samaritan village. They knew the Old Testament stories, and no doubt they had the story of Elijah in mind when they suggested Jesus rain down fire from heaven and teach these Samaritans (or at least those who survived) a lesson. Many today call the Bible the “word” of God. That’s what James and John thought of the Old Testament. It was the “word” of God. But, their big mistake was the Word of God, Jesus, God in the flesh, uppercase WORD, was right there with them. Jesus did not rain down fire on anyone, though he was urged to by his disciples. He did not kill anyone, though he died on his cross for us. What, in fact, did he say to James and John who urged him to rain down fire on the Samaritans?
The NIV simply says “he rebuked them” (Luke 9:55) but other translations, including the Authorized King James and New King James say, “He turned and rebuked them and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:55-56).
That’s my take.