God’s (perfectly serious) joke

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I almost laugh out loud as I watch God’s little joke unfold.

I’m reading in 2 Kings 6 of Elisha’s calmness when he rises in the morning and discovers the city where he is staying surrounded by enemy troops.

His servant panics. “Oh no, my lord! What are we going to do?”

Elisha responds, “Don’t worry. There are way more on our side than on theirs.” Then he prays, “Open his eyes, LORD, so he can see.”

And here I’m intrigued. The hills around the city are filled with horses and chariots of fire. They are present, sent, attentive and protective. And yet they just stand their ground, up in the surrounding hills, and the one to act, calmed and empowered by the knowledge of their presence, is Elisha. The fiery horses don’t decimate the enemy troops. They don’t show themselves and make the enemy die of fright or run for their lives. They quietly encourage faith in those who see.

It seems that God’s kingdom power, made visible in those fiery horses, so vastly outweighs the power of the human armies that God decides to play a little joke while he’s at it. Why not have a little gentle fun when the situation at hand is so easily managed? And Elisha, trusting God, gets to be part of the joke. Is it hard for Elisha to hold back a smile as he prays for the God who has opened the eyes of his servant to blind the eyes of his enemies? They don’t seem to notice their blindness, and Elisha, the man whom the troops are seeking to capture, calmly carries on with the joke. This small, vulnerable man—the intended captive—is graced to carry out God’s work while the armies of heaven stand by watching and witnessing (and marvelling at?) this grace.

“Oh, no, this isn’t the right road, and this isn’t the right city,” Elisha says to the troops. “Follow me and I will lead you to the man you’re looking for.” How absolutely true. It wasn’t the right road or the right city for what God was doing, and with every step Elisha was leading them to the man they were looking for, the man who was walking just a few steps ahead of them and whose identity would be revealed when they arrived.

They reach their destination and the would-be captors find themselves captives in the city of the king of Israel.

God’s magnificently gentle, perfectly serious joke continues.

“Oh no, don’t kill them,” Elisha instructs the king. “Feed them and send them back to their master.” And so the army which comes to take Elisha captive is taken captive by that same praying, trusting man, and is set free after being honored and cared for, nourished and tended.

(And for some reason, despite the extravagant hospitality, the enemy soldiers don’t seem tempted to come back for another meal. Problem—which in God’s eyes was never much of a problem—solved.)

 

Oh LORD, you change times and seasons,

You set up kings and depose them,

You free your people and feed your enemies

And You do it all with such creativity and freedom,

Such lovely humor and grace.

 

Open our eyes to see you at work in the world around us

and give us the faith to join in your perfectly serious joke.

 

LORD of the nations, we pray

make America great again—

great in faith and love and peace,

in joy and courage and generosity.

And let all whom you grace to stand and watch,

to walk and speak and lead hungry captives to the banquet

do so gently and humbly

delighting in your limitless love

and your vibrant joy

which erupts again and again in rich hospitality.

6 thoughts on “God’s (perfectly serious) joke

  1. One of my favourite O.T. stories and I love the way you’ve told it as God’s (perfectly serious) joke! Reminds me of Romans 12:20 “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Or as the Message puts it: “Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.”

  2. Wow! I have been reading the gospel looking for info on the spirit filled life and keep finding how important faith is. I have then noticed that Jesus gives children as an example of faith and trust. This post is so encouraging and challenging in terms of faith. I need to have faith to see the angels and troops that are there, to see and trust. Do you think that this seeing and trusting is a gift or cultivated?

    Thank you for your encouragement and challenge!

    1. Thanks for this great question, Bonita. I think that this seeing and trusting is both a gift and is cultivated. All gifts need to be opened and used if we’re to benefit from them. We can’t see unless God opens our eyes (2 Cor 4:4,6), yet there’s also a choice to trust and live the truth that we are allowed to see, and if we don’t, we become blind (e.g. Rom 1:18-23). I think of what Jesus said about why he spoke in parables: in Matthew 13:13, he says he spoke in parables BECAUSE while seeing they do not see (implying that they have chosen not to see) and in Mark 4:12 he says he spoke in parables SO THAT seeing, they do not see (implying that he is honoring their choice not to see). If we are serious about wanting to see, I think we’re allowed to see (e.g. Matt 7:7-11), and if we choose to believe and live in light of what we see, we’re allowed to see more (Matt 5:8, 13:12 in context). If we choose not to believe the grace we are allowed to see and choose idols over God, we become blind like the idols we are choosing. Isaiah 42:19-20 seems to say that they’re blind now because they didn’t pay attention to anything they were allowed to see. And it all seems to fit with Philippians 2:12-13 where we are told to work out our salvation because God is working in us—i.e. seeing (and everything else about life) is a joint process of God working in us and us working in cooperation with him or, as you put it, both a gift and something to be cultivated. Is that just confusing or does it help?

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