There are some lessons, especially in the Old Testament, that if they are read well, can really be hilarious. The back and forth between God and Moses about the golden calf is probably my favorite, but the 2 Kings story of Elijah’s departure into heaven is a very close second. The context isn’t particularly conducive to humor, the great prophet Elijah is being taken away from earth, after all. Yet, the way the author uses the characters and their conversations always makes me chuckle.
On three different occasions, Elijah tries to convince Elisha to stay behind. Each time, Elisha persists with these words, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Elisha knows that his master and friend is not long for this world, which makes his choice of words so darkly ironic. Basically, Elisha says, “as long as you’re alive, I’m sticking with you.” Twice, both at Bethel and Jericho, the prophets there try to tell Elisha what’s up. “You know the Lord is taking your master today, don’t you?” Twice, both at Bethel and Jericho, Elisha snaps back, “Yes, I know, now shut up.” That part always makes me laugh.
Even in the story’s most poignant moment, as Elijah is finally being carried away to heaven in a chariot of fire, Elisha’s response makes me smile. It is similar to Peter’s nonsensical response to the Transfiguration, as Elisha just blurts out what he sees, “Master! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen.” Funnier yet are the really terrible pieces of art that have been created in response to this story. The one at the top of this post is pretty good. So is this one.
You should do your own Google search on it. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
By now, you must be wondering what on earth this blog post is about. I’ve been wondering that myself along the way. What I think has hit me this morning is how often we take the personality out of the Bible. We hear these stories or we read them silently, as if they are just words on a page – matter-of-fact accounts of things about God – as if God doesn’t have a sense of humor, or a personality, or engage with humanity on our own terms. We tend to think the only emotion God can show is that of anger, but what if that isn’t true? What if God can offer a wry smile? What if God has a sarcastic streak? What if God wants to use things like humor and joy to help tell the story of God’s love for all creation? Is there some dark comedy in the story of Elijah being taken up in a whirlwind? I kind of think so. If you don’t, that’s ok. Maybe you find humor somewhere else in the great story of God’s steadfast love.