It was a moment of vindication and triumph. On the top of Mount Carmel, God had answered Elijah’s prayers, sending fire from heaven to accept his sacrifice. Almost a thousand false prophets had been extinguished at his command. And a mountaintop of people had bowed down and proclaimed that the Lord was God. A humble prophet had just made history.
But this spiritual high wouldn’t last long. Just a short time later, Elijah was no longer the same confident man who had taunted the prophets of Baal and prayed to God for a miracle. Instead he was fearful, broken and begging God to take his life.
What had changed?
It’s often said that history is written by the victors. This means that those who write history have the power to influence which memories are kept for posterity. Naturally it’s the moments of glory that survive, the instances where the sun is shining and life is good. If Elijah had a Facebook account, Mt Carmel would be his pinned post with loads of likes and countless shares. His subsequent breakdown would be the post that he edited numerous times before giving up and finally deleting. Or perhaps the post that he never wrote at all.
The Bible mentions plenty of “victories”. But it doesn’t gloss over or omit the “losses”. King David was described as a man after God’s own heart. But he was also an adulterer who killed his lover’s husband. Peter was one of Jesus’ closest disciples and founders of the early Christian church. But he was also a hot-tempered man who lied about knowing Jesus. Paul was one of the most influential figures in the New Testament and converted thousands to Christ. But he was also a self-confessed persecutor who stood back and held the executioners’ coats as Stephen was stoned.
"The truth is, leaders are humans and they are fallible."
This may come as a surprise but reading about these “losses” helps strengthen my faith. As Seventh-day Adventists, we may not believe in literal idols of wood and stone. But we do have a tendency to put our leaders on pedestals and treat them as our idols. What do I mean?
We become their groupies and follow them from church to church whenever they come to town. We take pride in asking for their autographs and posting up selfies with them. And sometimes we place our faith in them and what they do more than we rely on God.
The truth is, leaders are humans and they are fallible. They make mistakes. They have breakdowns. And sometimes, like Elijah, their greatest falls come after their spiritual highs. The Bible reminds us that all people are imperfect, yet capable of redemption. That we can have mountaintop experiences with God, yet need His still small voice to reassure us that we are never alone. And that we should keep our eyes on Him and not on each other.