In an essay published posthumously in 1970, C.S. Lewis used a visual analogy of “God in the dock” to describe the spiritual and intellectual climate of his era. The dock, where a defendant sat in a British courtroom, had become consigned to God in his metaphor, while man sat on the bench, putting him on trial.
As an academic with a penchant for debate, Lewis likely felt himself going between the dock and the bench in his dialogues with non-believers and this musing might have teetered on the edge of tangible reality at moments of his life. The notion of God on trial still captivates us, as it has since presented itself in movies and plays. It is the most simple illustration of modern apologetics, but the trial of God goes way further back than Lewis.
Elijah and the Prophets of Baal
I’ve seen some pastors insert the word “versus” when teaching on this passage (as if to present it as some blockbuster summer flick), but it needs very little embellishment to evoke its epic nature. Israel, though still claiming loyalty to God, had begun worshipping the pagan god Baal, who presided over fertility and rain. Elijah had the distinction of being the minority in the crowd who stood for truth. “How long will you hesitate between two opinions,” Elijah challenged them, “If the Lord is God follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (I Kings 18:21).
This confrontation ultimately culminated with Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal, who numbered 450 according to the text, to a contest of supernatural power. Each was given an oxen to present to their respective deities as a burnt offering, neither would actually light the fire themselves. The challenge was simple: the one true God would provide the flames for the offering. You probably know the ending; Baal is a no-show, God incinerates Elijah’s ox and Elijah proceeds to go on a rampage of actual Biblical proportions.
There are lots of details to Elijah’s offering, though, that are intriguing. He sets his ox upon twelve stones, on for each tribe of Israel. In his prayer, Elijah calls upon God and addresses him as the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, and asks Him to turn the hearts of His people back to Him. The lures of Baal were all vain and materialistic; rain, abundance, prosperity. The prophets of Baal boasted their god upon what the Israelites could obtain from him but Elijah stood for his God purely on the basis of the truth in who He was and that He desired His people.
Most of us are never going to enter a public debate or write a book to defend the existence and power of God but we will inevitably find ourselves with Him in the defendant’s chair if we’re serious about worshipping Him. We should always seek to love and serve our neighbor, that is what Jesus asked of us and it is out of love for His people that God showed his might to Elijah. But we should always remember the power of God, and the truth of who He is never changes.
Author | Justin Patton