Elisha the prophet was walking to Bethel. Some kids from the town started taunting him. “What’s up, old baldhead! Out of our way, skinhead.”*
As a fellow member of the No-hair Club for Men, I share Elisha’s offense at what those kids were saying.
So Elisha in his anger cursed them in God’s name, and God sent two bears who ripped 42 of those kids apart.
Justice! Not only were those darn kids making fun of a bald guy, they were making fun of God’s prophet.
That’s my first, visceral reaction anyway.
I preached about Elisha yesterday as part of a series on Old Testament characters (actually I preached as Elisha in a first-person monologue). I started with the bear-mauls-youths story. It sure is an attention-getter.
But what’s it doing in the Bible (2 kings 2:23-25 if you’re keeping score at home)? When you get past the initial rush of indignation satisfied, it really is quite a disturbing story.
Did those kids deserve to get ripped up and eaten by bears?
Lots of commentators have tried to explain away what is actually a horrific incident. The Life Application Bible I use most often has a note including this: “(The kids) were not merely teasing Elisha about his baldness, but showing severe disrespect for Elisha’s message and God’s power . . . when Elisha cursed them, he did not call out the bears himself. God sent them as judgment for their callous unbelief.”
So it was not human impetuousness but rather God’s wrath that responded to the kids’ taunts with an all-you-can-eat meal for the bears. (It gives a new meaning to “Children’s Menu.”) Somehow that does not make me feel better about this story.
There are things in the Bible that I just don’t like. This story is one of them. Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son (even though God called it off at the last minute) just seems cruel if you look at it from Abraham’s point of view.
And don’t even get me started about how much the whole idea of hell bothers me. If it were up to me the Universalists would be right.
But it’s not up to me. That was one of the hardest things for me to accept about being a Christian. I wanted to pick and choose those characteristics of God that made me happy, that seemed fair to me, that comported with my ideas of “the way things should be.”
I wanted to make God in my image, rather than to accept that it’s the other way around.
I’m hoping that when we get to eternity there will be a question booth. The line will undoubtedly be long, but I’m going to have, well, forever, so I’ll join it. Unfortunately, I won’t be eligible for the 10-questions or less express lane.
But for now, faith means believing God knows what He’s doing, even when I don’t agree with it. I may not know why that story about Elisha and the bears is in the Bible, but it’s there and I’ll deal with it. But not by prettying it up and trying to make it palatable by explaining what God was up to even when the Bible has no such explanation.
God is big enough to handle our questions. God is forgiving enough to handle our questioning.
Whether it’s Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, or life in general, I like knowing all the answers. But faith means accepting that I don’t get to know all the “why’s.”
You know, it’s probably better that way. Because right now, in my limited imperfect mortal state, to paraphrase that great theologian Jack Nicholson – I couldn’t handle the truth. Not all of it, anyway.
*Bible quotation from The Message. I love The Message’s earthiness in passages like this!