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Give me your son

20th March 2015

In 1 Kings 17, verses 10-16, we can read about the time that God sent the prophet Elijah out of Israel, to the town of Zarapheth in the territory of Sidon. He met a widow there at a time when all she and her son had was enough flour to make one last meal. She shared what she had with Elijah and, in accordance with his prophecy, God provided for their needs; every day, the flour in her jar was not used up and the oil in her jug did not run dry. But then we read:

1 Kings 17:17
Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing.

Sometimes, life is bewildering. Sometimes, God is bewildering.

God had shown the widow and her son great favour by sending His prophet to them. He'd preserved their lives, providing food day-by-day. But now her son had become ill, and had died. Why would God save her son's life, only to take it again? It's bewildering.

The woman asked Elijah what was going on, and why:

1 Kings 17:18
She said to Elijah, "What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?"

When tragedy strikes, we so often wonder if we're being punished for our past sins. All our understanding of the Gospel of grace can disappear. Our confidence in God's forgiveness can disappear. I suppose we all know, deep down, that we don't deserve God's favour. But we think we understand that we're forgiven, until something awful happens to us or to a loved on, and we begin to doubt.

What can a Christian say to another Christian who's experiencing great loss, great sadness?

It's so easy to say something platitudinous. We can remind them of scriptures like "rejoice in the Lord always" or "all things work together for good for those who love the Lord" but we usually do more harm than good; even though the scriptures are true, they don't meet the grieving person's need at that time. We can be so insensitive if we trot out such passages when someone is feeling devastated.

Much better to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).

Elijah's response to the widows desperate questioning was:

1 Kings 17:19
"Give me your son," Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed.

Elijah entered into the widow's grief. He did all he could to share her pain. He took the dead boy's body and laid him on his own bed. And in doing so, he made himself ceremonially unclean.

And then Elijah prayed:

1 Kings 17:20
Then he cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?"

The widow didn't understand why her son had died. Elijah didn't understand either. It's OK to not have all the answers. But not having the answers didn't stop Elijah sharing the widow's situation and her anguish. And it didn't stop him praying, even though he wasn't sure what to pray for yet. He made a start. He asked God what God was doing.

Elijah then prayed again:

1 Kings 17:21
Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the LORD, "O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!"

Again, Elijah entered into the tragedy as much as he could. He identified with the dead boy as much as possible. And God heard his prayer:

1 Kings 17:22-23
The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, "Look, your son is alive!"

Oh the joy! Oh the amazement at the power and mercy of God! Probably, Elijah was just as amazed as the widow. I think this is the first tine someone was raised from the dead. Elijah can't have been expecting it. But he empathised so strongly with the widow and her son that he cried out to God for him anyway. And God brought the boy back to life.

1 Kings 17:24
Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth."

The widow's reaction is understandable, but it's flawed. Elijah was a man of God whether or not her son was restored to life. She knew that, because of what had already happened in her life. And the word of the Lord is true, whether or not God heard her prayer - or our prayers. The word of God is true because God speaks it, not because God does what we ask,

Sometimes, God performs amazing miracles of love, grace and power. Sometimes, God doesn't do what we ask, even if we seek Him with tears. But He is the same God yesterday, today and forever.

May God give you what you ask Him for. And may God give you peace and faith, even when he doesn't.