Bearing the Unbearable

After a while the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land (1 Kings 17:7).

When you tell people in Atlanta, Georgia that you’re about to move to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania they invariably offer an observation about the winters, often noting the obvious. Something along the lines of ‘It’s cold up there,’ or ‘They get snow.’

Yes, I’m aware. And to be perfectly honest I’m a little intimidated by what awaits us there between November and April (please God, not October to May).

I’m sure people who live in the North, or who live down here and grew up in the North, think Southerners are a joke when it comes to winter weather. Sure, we tend to overreact at times. The slightest mention of winter precipitation sends us stampeding to Home Depot for a generator, followed by a stop at Kroger for bread and milk, lest our children perish. Go ahead all you transplanted Yankees. Laugh all you want.

But understand our context here in the Sunbelt. In Atlanta winter means slipping on a windbreaker when you jog at 6:00 a.m. Once we live through a few spells of nighttime lows below 20 and a possible ice or snow event, we’ve paid our dues to old man winter. He’s like an annoying relative who makes an obligatory annual visit and then goes home, not a moment too soon.

The Absence of a Finish Line

Most of us can endure almost anything if we have a sense that eventually things will change. We can tolerate the intolerable for a while. We can put up with the unbearable if we see daylight at the end of the tunnel, something that assures us that the unpleasant present will inevitably give way to future blessing.

In matters far more serious than a wave of cold weather, we are willing to suffer and believe that God is at work in our affliction. What erodes faith isn’t the suffering, but the sense that the suffering won’t stop. The absence of a finish line, the suspicion that spring will never come, the lack of a horizon on which we see the promise of relief.

When Elijah told King Ahab that there would be “neither dew nor rain” the declaration was open-ended. No long range forecast was given to indicate how long the drought would last. The Elijah stories in 1 Kings 17 and 18 don’t give clear indications as to the length of the drought. The book of James in the New Testament says it lasted three and a half years (James 5:17). As best we can tell, not even Elijah knew when it would end. He just lived through it and in it until God gave rain.

Embrace the Present Drought

One of the greatest challenges to a life of faith is living in the midst of a barren place and barren conditions without the slightest sense that things will ever change. Such conditions have a way of exposing us and the deepest affection of our hearts. They reveal the substance of our faith.

A life of faith doesn’t merely endure the present drought. Faith embraces it.

The tendency, shared by all of us, is to place our hope in a forecast. This has a subtle way of replacing our hope in God. We want to know when: when will I get better, when will the economy rebound, when will I find my soul-mate, when will the company recognize my talents and skills? A good forecast makes faith unnecessary.

But God doesn’t give us forecasts, at least not often and where it most matters. God invites a daily walk in the conditions we have right in front of us. That’s where God’s glory gets revealed. Fire falls from heaven; a small cloud promises a downpour (18:45). And a demonstration of God’s glory beats a forecast any day.


I will embrace the conditions of this day, O God, not as a test of endurance but as an invitation to faith. Give me eyes to see your glory and recognize your work – especially in the unlikely and unwanted details of this day, I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

2 thoughts on “Bearing the Unbearable

  1. Thank you, Mark Crumpler, for the Holy Spirit who freely blesses us through you! Godspeed and love to you and your family on your upcoming call. Anne Boone


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