Every party has a pooper, that’s why we invited you. Party pooper. Party pooper. – Franck Eggelhoffer
It is common in our world to think of God as a Cosmic Party Pooper. Man just wants to have fun and here comes God ruining it. The unbelieving world has looked at God and come to the conclusion He exists to kill joy. Or rather, he is a construct of those who wish to kill their joy. It’s understandable. God has said “Do not” to many of the things they wish to do. Now, this view of God is wildly inaccurate (Ps. 16:11). However, there is one type of party we Christians like to throw that God is in the business of pooping.
I just sold my townhouse (Praise God!). Literally. I signed the contract yesterday. And it only took over a year of being on the market with multiple price drops and much anxiety. When my family and I set out on this adventure, I expected it to take maybe six months. Townhouses sell slower than your typical home. But as month six came and went, I started planning a little party. A Pity Party. As we waited, we saw many friends put their houses on the market and sell them (sometimes within days). Suddenly, the date for the party got pushed up and it became a multi-night event. Invitations, however, were limited. I generally only invited my wife and God (It’s funny how we reserve our best for the ones we really love. *end sarcasm*). God never RSVP’d. But He sure did show up.
Among the prophets, Elijah stands above them all. I feel confident in saying so for this reason alone. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, two other people showed up. Moses and Elijah. Moses, representing the Law. Elijah, the prophets. So, as the kids might say, Elijah is kind of big deal. And if we know our Bible, this is not surprising. And despite his status, he remained a man with a nature just like me (James 5:17). And there is an episode from his life, recorded in 1 Kings 19, that I deeply resonate with and that is also highly instructive for us.
In the previous chapter, we find Elijah having a literal mountaintop experience. He soundly defeats the prophets of Baal and exposed Baal as a false god. The people of Israel turn from Baal back to the Lord. Elijah and the people then slaughter all the prophets of Baal. It was a good day for Elijah. I can imagine he was feeling pretty good. Chapter 19 begins with Elijah’s arch nemesis, Jezebel, hearing that her prophets of Baal suffered total defeat. And she responds rather curiously. Obviously, she heard fire fell out of heaven at the request of Elijah and that Elijah then systematically slaughtered all her buddies. But instead of cowering in fear of the power of Elijah’s God, she starts breathing out threats. And when Elijah hears the threats, he becomes “afraid.” Which is bizarre considering what had just happened on Mt. Carmel. Not only does he become afraid, he promptly flees for his life. It is at this point in the story we know Elijah began planning a pity party. The Bible doesn’t tell us all the plans, but we do get a description of what happened there.
The party was held in a damp cave on Mt. Horeb. And it started off with a bang. Fire. Thunder. Earthquake. And then silence. But not just any silence. This silence had a voice. And it had a question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” YHWH was here and He was speaking. He was here to ruin Elijah’s pity party. Elijah responds to the question the same way we all do when in the throes of self-pity. “I’m here because despite all I’ve done for you, God, my enemies are about to kill me! What gives?” We believe that our works merit the sort of favor that should shield us from any and all difficulty. And when the difficulty does set it, our ability to pity ourselves knows no limit. Our eyes burn with tears, because, after all, this is our pity party and we can cry if we want to. And while we feel justified in throwing this pity party, we harm ourselves in two ways.
Self-Pity Forgets the Sovereignty of God
Throughout this process of selling my townhouse, if you had asked me if I believed that God was sovereign over all things, I would have said yes without hesitating. And although I checked the right box on the theological checklist, my growing self-pity revealed an inconsistency in what I said I believed and how I lived.
Self-pity always blames God for suffering. The self-pitying man knows he has done many things for the Lord. He serves him and sacrifices for him. And he believes that service merits reward. However, when we engage in self-pity, it reveals a poverty in our theology. We have begun to approach God, not as a person, but as a machine. God has become our ATM. We have made deposits into our account. So we expect to make withdrawals. And we expect to make those withdrawals on our terms and on our schedule. Now, we might check the right theological box (just like I did) when it comes to the sovereignty of God, but in the moment of our self-pity, we deny it. Self-pity forgets that we cannot control God. Self-pity forgets that we do not control to universe. God does.
My wife and I watched “Man of Steel” for the first time last weekend. One thing that surprised me about the movie was how many Christological themes that were present in the movie (there were so many, in fact, that I am surprised some enterprising Christian publisher has not created a study guide for the movie). One of my favorite lines was when Superman tells the General “You fear me because you cannot control me…but I am not your enemy.” It took a little time to convince the General that Superman was for them and not against them. The man mired in self-pity has forgotten that God is for him and not against him. He has forgotten that he cannot control God. And in response, he has forged a new god in his own image. One who is both safe and powerless. One that looks a lot like the image he sees in the mirror.
Self-Pity Forgets the Mission of God
Self-pity always distracts us from the mission. Always. The mission we have been given is outside of ourselves and for others. But when we start throwing pity parties all over the place, we lose focus on the mission God has given us. We become too self-absorbed to think about others. Who has time to care about the unreached peoples of the world and of my neighborhood when I have a townhouse to sell? Self-pity also lies to us by telling us that no one else is facing a greater difficulty. This is why the local church is such a gift to us. By being in relationship with one another, difficulties greater than our own confront us. Sacrifices greater than our own confront us. And the Word of God confronts us. And our self-pity is held in check and we are kept on mission.
For a good chunk of the time I have tried to sell the townhouse, friends of mine in my small group at church have suffered greatly. They are in the process of adopting from the Congo. And in October of last year, they traveled to go pick up their daughter and bring her home. Due to unforeseen circumstances and broken promises, 7 months later, my friends’ little girl is still not home. And the mother has been in country with their daughter almost the whole time. The father came back home after a few months to work. So for about 5 months, they have been split apart. They helped temper my self-pity. And then there was the preaching. Gathering each Lord’s Day with my brothers and sisters and sitting under the teaching of the Word, I was weekly convicted of the sin of self-pity. God kept showing up at my pity parties, even after I stopped inviting him. He was intent on helping me see. For the man looking only at himself is blind.
Did you notice how God responds to Elijah’s self-pity? First He asks Elijah what he’s doing in the cave. When Elijah responds by throwing a pity party, God responds simply by saying, “Go!” Go do this and this. Get back on mission, Elijah! Quit worrying about your enemies, the people who can only kill you (hum, that sounds familiar), and get back on mission. This is God’s response to all of us. If you invite God to your pity party, all He will do is remind you of the mission. He is the Cosmic Pity Party Pooper. And this is good news for us.
A Better Elijah
Jesus is the better and truer Elijah. When he was faced with the greatest difficulty, bearing the wrath of God for sinners, he did not throw a pity party. He did not think that God was against him. And rather than shrinking back and forgetting the mission, he set his face like flint to do it. He suffered and died. For us. And he was raised on the third day. For us. And He has commissioned us for service in his Kingdom. We have a mission that lies before us. And the choice we all face is this: will we put our eyes on our self or on Jesus? Will we get on with the mission or throw a pity party?
The Remedy for Self-Pity
The only remedy for self-pity is service. The only weapon that can slay the dragon of self is the mission. Self-pity is a cruel master that is intent on destroying you. Denying yourself and picking up your cross to follow Jesus is how rebel against that master. We will either pick up our cross and die to ourselves and live or we will turn further and further in and destroy ourselves and die.
Surrendering our lives to Jesus will not make them easier. There will be difficulty, pain and even death. But there is no defeat. Only resurrection. Only glory. The sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing to the eternal glory that we will share in the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ. So we go. We cancel our pity parties and we pick up our crosses and follow Jesus on mission, all the while inviting others to do the same.