“But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels. Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!” (Psalm 81:11–13, ESV)
My nephew Kamden is a five-year-old ball of human fire, filled with more energy and precocious mischievousness than maybe any kid I’ve ever met. The fourth of five children, he is constantly trying to press the limits, to push past the boundaries. If not for the watchful oversight of his parents—my brother Jonathan and his wife, Kanika—there’d be no barrier between himself and the dangers of, say, a swimming pool, a crowded intersection, a threatening animal. You get the picture? This is the reason why one of Kamden’s frequent locations is right smack-dab in the middle of his father’s lap, being lovingly and securely held down for his own protection.
Sometimes, though, I’ve watched Jonathan let him go—not because he didn’t want to protect his son, but because he decided in the moment that Kamden would learn better by his own painful experience.
On one occasion when Kamden was about two, Jonathan was helping him down a flight of stairs, holding tightly to his hand. But Kamden was squirming, fighting to free himself, insisting on making it to the bottom without help. When they finally got to the last step, Jonathan gave Kamden what he wanted. He let go of his hand, despite what everyone else besides Kamden knew for sure would happen next. His little two-year-old legs weren’t long enough to steady his weight from one riser to the next, so he took a little spill. Not enough to injure him, but enough to teach him this valuable lesson: My father knows best.
Our relationship with our heavenly Father is much the same. Many times, in order to keep us protected, He holds us close, He hems us in. But at other times, still motivated by that same great love, He releases us to our own demands.
He lets go.
And we learn the harder way.
Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people stiffened their necks against God’s protective authority. Progressively, over a number of decades,His children – whom He’d rescued and redeemed – refused a posture of surrender toward His divine care and guidance. Even worse, they’d turned their backs on Him, refused His loving advances, and they chased the wicked lifestyles and allegiances encouraged by their rebellious, godless leaders. The spiritual indifference and negligence had been offensive to God. Year after year. Decade after decade. Century after century. Until the sharpness of Ahab’s departure from the worship of the one true God had grieved the Lord even more. He did “more evil in the eyes of the Lordthan any of those before him” (1 Kings 16:30 NIV). And at this low ebb of the declining arc, God did what fathers sometimes have to do.
He let go.
Judgment prevailed. The consequences of rebellion caught up with Israel.
And like it or not, God operates the same way with us today. The sad reality is that the current culture we’re living in is experiencing some of the same effects of this divine relinquishing.
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Therefore, God gave them up . . . (Romans 1:21 24, ESV)
As children of God—saved, redeemed, and forgiven—the status of our relationship with Him never changes, just as Kamden’s relationship to his daddy never did. But it doesn’t mean our experience with Him is incapable of changing if we persist in refusing to honor Him. He will sometimes choose tough, letting-go love as the best option for reminding us that the ingredients we’re mixing into our lives are a recipe for disaster.He will sometimes choose tough, letting-go love as the best option for reminding us that the ingredients we’re mixing into our lives are a recipe for disaster.
But, for ancient Israel, God would raise up a man, whose heart was fully His, who would awaken the people out of their spiritual apathy and call them back from the brink of spiritual disaster. The One True God was working a plan to rescue His beloved people then and He is working a plan to rescue His people now. Just when everything seems that it can only spiral downward, just when it appears that there is no hope toward, God will raise up a representative out of the rugged, obscure mountains of Gilead who would call His people back.
Don’t be discouraged.
Elijah is coming.
(*This article is an excerpt from Elijah: Faith and Fire. Coming January 2021!)