A book I read yesterday  quoted a passage in James 5:16-18 that I often reflect upon myself: “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.” Elijah was a man whose nature was like ours, and indeed, very much like me , and I have long drawn encouragement from what the Bible says about his life. Indeed, the fervent prayer of the righteous does avail much, even if God does not always answer our fervent prayers in the precise way that we would expect.
Today, though, I would like to talk about a very odd sort of matter that might not be something that people often reflect about at all. How is it that we know Elijah was a man with a nature like ours? Elijah was not a man whose nature we would know at all if it had not been recorded in scripture. Thanks to the author(s) of 1st and 2nd Kings, we happen to know a great deal about Elijah. Even though we do not know anything about his family life (he appears to have been a lonely sort of man), we know a lot about his emotional life, his crude and sarcastic sense of humor, his fierce and passionate devotion to God, his willingness to challenge corrupt monarchs, and his struggles with depression and despondency, and his tendency to disappear mysteriously without a trace, but only because these matters have been discussed in scripture. It is from God’s word that we know what we know about Elijah, as we have no other sources available to us.
The Bible is famous, even notorious, for the way in which it records both the praiseworthy and the blameworthy aspects of the lives of the people inside of it. This is true of people like David and Abraham in the Hebrew scriptures, and Peter and Paul in the Renewed Covenant scriptures, all of whom have deep and dark matters about their lives portrayed in scripture that have been recorded for posterity. Often people have tended to use the flaws and errors within scripture to condemn the character of those who are in the scriptures without recognizing the role of God’s grace, and in the painful honesty and openness that is expected of the people of God. After all, if we merely pretend to obey God, we are hypocrites, but if we receive God’s mercy, often our flaws and sins are a part of a story that becomes far more widely known, which can lead to a lot of criticism to come our way as a result of those weaknesses, even if God has forgiven those sins.
Why does the Bible demand such a painful openness from believers? Genuine believers and godly people can do horrific things and struggle against terrible evil. Some of us, alas, know this from our own personal and family histories, but for those of us who do not have to stare into the contrast between genuine faith and horrific struggles against bleak and dark sins in our own lives and the lives of others close to us can see plenty of it in scripture. Many of us who might consider ourselves to believe in God might quail in confessing our sins to others, much less leaving a record of our struggles that can be used against us by those who are wicked slanderers with gossiping tongues, knowing the sort of harm that can come to our lives as a result of such tongue-wagging. Yet God does expect openness from us, not because we are without any contrition for our sin, but because the struggles of our own lives can be encouragement to others. It may seem strange that this would be so, but it ought not to be. One of the reasons we can draw encouragement and strength from stories like that of Elijah is that we know Elijah to be a man with a nature like ours because we have seen his nature—good and bad, godly and human—in the pages of God’s word.
The same is true for us. To the extent that our nature is known, is seen, is understood, we too can serve as an example for those around us. Sometimes, unfortunately, our life is a cautionary tale of what behavior to avoid, or what problems can result from the difficulties we all face, or the weaknesses that all too easily manifest themselves in our lives. Ultimately, though, as believers, our stories are supposed to be encouraging to others, so that people around us and those who come after us may know that no matter the struggles we have faced, no matter the times we have fallen or the incredible mess of our lives that we have sometimes made, or no matter the horrors that others have inflicted upon us in abuse and cruelty, we were triumphant and overcame with the help of God, and if we were able to rise above what we faced, so others will be able to do so with the same power and the same help in their own lives. Ultimately, God is our judge, not the critics and haters and naysayers around us, and though God is a just judge with a far more strict standard than the relative morality that is common among people, He is also far more gracious and merciful than most of us. And ultimately, if we live our lives well, the record of our deeds will allow others to hope, even with a full knowledge of their own weaknesses and struggles and vulnerabilities, that God will be as tender and merciful and understanding with them as He has been with us. May that be a comfort to us, given our own natures, and the fervent prayers and longings of our hearts, and the difficulties we all have to deal with as we seek to overcome this world and live according to His ways. For we too have a nature like those heroes of faith who came before us, who were men, women, and children not unlike ourselves.
 See, for example: