"Quarantine"–it's a word I rarely used prior to 2020. I probably could have defined it but had no need to use the word in everyday conversations. Why would I? But now, like everyone else, "quarantine" is a part of my regular vocabulary. In fact, for most of December, my family was in quarantine, distancing ourselves from others and constrained to our home. Many around the world are currently facing similar, isolating experiences whether it's because they are in personal isolation due to exposure, because they're working from home, or because of general government regulations. Perhaps right now, you yourself are in quarantine. You would not be the only one. Yet, it's easy to feel alone and anxious with changing restrictions and with the uncertainties of tomorrow.
Even with this reality, while we may be limited, constrained, and quarantined, our God never is. I recently shared with my daughters the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). It is a beautiful (and at times comical) story that shows the greatness and exclusivity of God's power. The land of Samaria had been without rain for three years. The crops were dried up, and the people were hungry and weary. The king at the time worshiped Baal and did not approve of God's prophet, Elijah; the pagan king thought Elijah was just a troublemaker trying to stir up division and thwart his rule. So, one day, Elijah called to the king and proposed a duel of sorts. Elijah would willingly go up against 450 prophets of Baal, and whoever's deity was able to call down fire from heaven was the real God. They both agreed and set the terms.
Elijah invited the prophets of Baal to go first. They prepared an altar with an animal sacrifice and prayed for fire to come from heaven. They shouted, danced, and even slashed themselves to somehow win the approval of their god. Can't you just picture it–the men throwing their bodies around like a toddler throwing a tantrum, trying to get something from his or her parents? From morning to night they cried out, but nothing happened. Elijah began to taunt the people saying, "Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened" (1 Kings 18:27 ESV).
At the evening sacrifice when nothing had happened, the prophets conceded, and it was Elijah's turn. Elijah prepared the sacrifice and even dug a ditch around the altar, filling it with water until it overflowed. There was no human manipulation or trickery. He didn't need to slash himself or dance around the altar. He simply prayed a prayer to the living God, and immediately fire consumed not only the sacrifice but all the water, wood, and surrounding stones as well. The people, seeing the great power of God, fell to their knees and worshiped the one true God.
Immense power was demonstrated at that moment–awesome, limitless, and beyond comprehension! That is the same God we worship today. I love this story because it reminds me that God is not like the gods we create. He doesn't get tired, and He never gets sick. He is not limited or distracted by COVID-19. He is not on vacation or socially distancing Himself from us, afraid to catch our germs. God is not anxiously biting his nails, wondering how 2021 will turn out. He is close, and He listens to us. He doesn't ask us to throw tantrums or slash ourselves to win His approval. He has given it to us in Christ.
Just as Elijah teased the prophets of Baal, we too can think that God is too distracted or preoccupied for us. We view Him like a frazzled mom at the grocery store, just trying to get to the car. We think that He couldn't be bothered with our life's problems–that He must be busy elsewhere. But amazingly, God has the power to focus His full attention on every single detail of the earth at the same time. He knows our every thought, our greatest fears, and what will happen tomorrow. His eye is not only on the sparrow–it's on me too (Matthew 6:26). Though we wait for vaccines and treatments, trying to protect our frail bodies from illness, He is seated firmly on His throne. He never stops working good for those who love Him, and He is strong enough to handle our worries. He knows all and is sovereign over everything. He is holy and wholly different from us. Surely we can trust Him with our today and with our tomorrows.
Isn't that the beauty of the incarnation of Christ? This powerful, perfect, impenetrable God humbled himself for us. Jesus became flesh and entered into the human experience, enduring our sorrows. He faced sickness, scraped knees, hunger, and hardship. Fully God, fully man, He sympathized with our weaknesses, and He understands–truly, deeply understands–more than we do ourselves. When we are weak, He doesn't push us away but pulls us in.
The same God who created the world with a word and who brought down fire from heaven knows our sorrows and carries our burdens. He is the one who experienced our pain, and He has the power to sustain. Even through a pandemic, He is active, working, and close. He is the one true God–powerful, unrestrained, uncontainable–and He will bring us safely home.