Troubling a Troubled Status Quo

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When Ahab laid eyes on the prophet, he greeted him by calling Elijah the “troubler⁠ of Israel.” In the deluded mind of Israel’s king, Elijah was solely to blame for the dire situation Israel found herself—politicians are skilled in shifting blame and passing the buck. Just as Achan had once brought trouble on Israel (Josh 6:18; 7:25) and had to be eliminated for the good of the community, so Ahab believed that Elijah’s life must be snuffed out if the drought was to abate. But Ahab’s sin had blinded him to the fact that he, not Elijah, was the Achan in this particular story, and Elijah says as much: “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals” (v. 18).

Christians sin, and thus we must always be willing to humbly heed rebuke when it is justified. But for every occasion when repentance is necessary, there are many more when the faithful are falsely accused of being the problem. It is the world’s (to say nothing of Satan’s) favorite tactic—to slander the elect as troublers of the community. Indeed, Satan is the great accuser who loves to malign the people of God “day and night” (Rev 12:10). When this happens, we must not concede or capitulate, but remain firm in our resolve, confident that no one can succeed in bringing a charge against the elect if it is God who justifies (Rom 8:33).⁠

In our culture, anyone who upsets the peace of the community for any reason is often perceived the troubler. But what if it is the status quo that is troubled? What if “the troubler” is seeking to restore the shalom God so desperately desires for each of us? In reflecting on this very principle, Brueggemann invokes the civil rights protestors of the 1960s. Just as America is popularly assumed to be a place of “liberty and justice for all,” kings in ancient times were responsible for social justice and the general welfare among their subjects. Likewise, protestors of the Civil Rights era “were thought to be disturbers of the peace, when in fact it was accepted, distorted social relationships that caused trouble of a deep, unnoticed kind.”⁠

In families and churches, as well as businesses and communities, truth-tellers can be mistaken for trouble-makers. A word of reproof, rebuke, or exhortation can be easily interpreted as evidence of prejudice, bitterness, or arrogance. But individuals willing to “truth in love” (Eph 4:15) are crucial to the shalom of any family, church, or community. A church no longer continuing in the apostles’ doctrine; a contentious marriage headed toward irreparable dissolution; a society hell-bent on betraying its heritage, silencing dissenters, and suppressing the truth…

Who will rise to trouble the troubled status quo?