Just the other day, I was revisiting the account of Elijah's confrontation with the Israelites on Mount Carmel when I stopped to ponder over what the prophet said and what the people did not say: "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him, but if Baal, then follow him. But the people answered him not a word" (1 Kings 18:21). You know the rest of the story. The people needed some convincing, but in the end "they fell on their faces: and they said, 'The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!'" (1 Kings 18:39)
I looked up the word "falter" in my dictionary. The definition read, "move, walk or act hesitantly, usually because of weakness, fear, or indecision." Curious, I returned to the Bible and scoured the political and cultural landscape of the time, trying to understand the quandary the Israelites were in.
I think you already know that this incident occurred when Ahab was the king of Israel. The Bible tells us that he "did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him" (1 Kgs 16:30). As I went back and forth in the Scriptures concerning this man, I saw that Ahab did as he pleased (1 Kgs 16:31-33). He had no regard for the God of Israel and His commandments (Ex 33-34). Not only did Ahab marry a foreign bride who did not know God, he essentially married her gods as well. I also learned that Ahab was an ungodly man even before he married Jezebel--he was as wicked as Jeroboam.
Jeroboam was king of Israel long before Ahab was born. The Bible tells us that at a time when he was feeling insecure on the throne, Jeroboam devised a scheme to secure the people's allegiance. Unfortunately, he did so by turning the people away from the Lord God of Israel (1 Kgs 11:28-12:33).
Now, it must be said that the Israelites, as a whole, prided themselves on the knowledge that they, out of all the people on the face of the earth, were the chosen people of God. This knowledge was handed down from one generation to the next since as far back as the time of Moses, a man whom God had used to liberate their ancestors from slavery in Egypt (Deut 7:6).
But the generation in Jeroboam's time did not understand what it meant to be God's chosen people. When their new king began introducing beliefs that contradicted the Lord's will, these Israelites did not think anything was amiss. When Jeroboam gave them two golden calves to worship, they accepted these false gods without question, as they did the shrines and the priests (1 Kgs 12:26-33). Little by little, Jeroboam led the Israelites farther and farther away from the Lord their God, and they were none the wiser.
After Jeroboam, five kings came and went before Ahab ascended to the throne. All seven men, it is written, "did evil," "sinned," and "caused Israel to sin" (1 Kgs 11-16). Living under these circumstances, God's chosen people never really had the opportunity to get to know Him. No wonder Elijah the prophet needed to go to such great lengths to show them who alone was the Lord their God.
So I thought of you, and of all the young people in church, and of the times in which we live. Although I cannot actually make a fair comparison between these times and those in 1 Kings, it seems to me that, living in the twenty-first century, you and your peers face challenges far greater and more numerous than those of the Israelites who lived about 2850 years ago. To give you an idea of how much times have changed even in my own lifetime, what I once knew as a wide world is now merely a global village. People come and go; information flows freely; ideas bounce back and forth.
This is especially true now that personal computers are here to stay. In this age of the internet, with the click of a "mouse" you're "online" and connected to anyone or anywhere on the "world wide web," at any time of day or night. The advantages are many. When you need to research a topic for school or work, all you have to do is type a keyword into the computer. In a matter of seconds, you're searching the archives of a magnificent library. This wonderful technology also brings new meanings to old phrases like "pop in to say hello" and "a balancing act," so that even as you're scrutinizing facts and figures, you're also very naturally making conversation with your friends by way of those "instant messages."
Unfortunately, being online is like being out in an open field where anybody can take a shot at you. Along with the harmless junk mail that fills up your online mailbox, there's the ever-present threat of "viruses" that are out to infect your computer and affect your ability to make good use of this powerful technology. But from what I have seen and heard, there are more harmful threats that can infect your heart and mind and affect your ability to care for your soul. Just as with those dangers you face in an open field, you may not always know who is trying to take a shot at you or where the shot is coming from. Sometimes, too, the danger just happens to be out there in the field, and you only stumble upon it accidentally.
So should you stay away from computers and the internet? Would this protect you from people, information, and ideas that turn your heart and mind away from the one true God? The answer is no, for as you already know, danger is not only present when you venture out into the open field; sometimes, danger lies close to home.
Having said all of this, however, I know there is one thing that sets you and your peers apart from those Israelites who stood on Mount Carmel that day--you need no convincing that the Lord alone is God. By His grace, our Lord Jesus has introduced Himself to you and given you the opportunity to get to know Him on a personal level. I see evidence of this relationship reflected in the way that, over the years, you have learned little by little to search the Scriptures to fathom God's will and include Him in your everyday lives.
Still, you are living in the real world, where the fabric of society is a patchwork of many thoughts and beliefs. There's no escaping this reality. All you have to do is wake up in the morning and turn on the radio or television. You'll read all about it when you pick up the newspaper. It's there when you step out into the street, when you're in school, at work, or at the marketplace. Even when you think you've escaped into a movie theater to relax after a hard day's work, it's staring right back at you. Perhaps the only time you don't have to deal with it is when you are fast asleep. This is the landscape of our times. Though not a carbon copy of the Israelites' times, it is reminiscent of theirs.
What's that? We know better than to go down that road?
That's easier said than done. I know. I've been there. I have, in the breath it took me to assure friends that God will answer their prayers, also asked them to keep their fingers crossed. I have devoured articles about the applications of feng shui in the home. I have scanned horoscopes in the morning newspapers...
Nevertheless, I am confident that you and your peers will aim for higher ground where you won't get bogged down or swept away. You will do so not because you know better than the Israelites, but because the Lord Himself will bless you and keep you. Only fix your eyes on Jesus and stand firmly planted in His Word.
Written as a mother would her child, "Letters from Mom" addresses the struggles of our young people as they step toward the threshold of adulthood. This column hopes to encourage, comfort, and urge the youth to continue living as children of God. Please send comments or questions to email@example.com.