Raising the Dead
By Audrey Stallsmith
Whenever I read a certain Bible story, I have to ask myself, “What was that woman thinking?” That would be the mother in the Old Testament whose son died in her lap shortly after being brought in sick from the fields.
Perhaps the elderly father had insisted on taking the boy out to the harvest, so he could learn the responsibilities that would be his one day. Once he became faint, that father hastily returned him to the care of his mother, with no conception apparently of how serious the illness actually was.
Some commentators suggest it might have been heatstroke, which can cause headache. At any rate, it was fast and fatal. Although the mother did her best to hold and comfort her child, she who had possessed a perfectly healthy son at breakfast time was cradling a corpse by lunchtime.
So what was she thinking when she laid the boy’s body out of sight in the prophet’s room on the roof, apparently not telling anyone about the death? Psychologists today probably would call her reaction “denial.” I know that I’ve been getting through my mother’s recent equally sudden death by keeping so busy that I don’t have time to think about it. Only to find myself suddenly breaking into tears on long car trips when I can’t prevent myself from thinking.
There seems to have been more than such denial behind the Biblical mother’s silence, though. Maybe it would have taken far too much time to explain matters to her husband and to deal with his reaction to them. Perhaps, because he was an elderly man, his wife didn’t believe he could handle such news.
I’m guessing, though, that she just was full of rage. She had never asked for a child, but Elisha voluntarily had given her one. After that son had become everything to her, it wasn’t fair that he be taken away again. The prophet must therefore be compelled to give back her boy.
Once she set off to fetch Elisha, she refused to be distracted from her quest. Her servant, probably along to prod the mule on which she was riding, was told to keep the animal moving as fast as possible.
Even when the mother found Elisha, she didn’t report the death outright. Instead she reminded the prophet that he’d promised her a son. Under those circumstances, he hardly could help deducing that the son was no longer in existence. Perhaps even this woman was afraid to ask the prophet to raise the dead, but that obviously was what she expected him to do.
These days, everybody would tell her that she was being irrational. Elisha didn’t. Apparently he saw nothing unreasonable about her demand.
He first attempted to send his apprentice, who-- presumably being a younger man--could get there faster. But the boy’s mother had no faith in Gehazi and insisted that Elisha come too. Though sometimes an irritable sort, he obviously had much more empathy and understanding than his servant and threw himself into the resurrection effort much more whole-heartedly than Gehazi did.
Do we have the same fervent belief in God that the woman had in Elisha? In her day, people approached God through the prophets and priests, so faith in those men actually was faith in the God who worked through them. Do we believe, as she must have, that God always keeps his promises?
He wants us to draw on those promises, not because we deserve them, but because it proves our faith in the One who made them. Gehazi didn’t have the strength to persist when there was no immediate answer. He probably was more concerned that they might lose their cushy apartment in the woman’s house than he was about the boy. But Elisha knew from long experience what God can do, just because he’d asked God for so many previous miracles.
In Scripture, only the most dedicated contrived to raise the dead. That limited group of “resurrection men” included Elisha, Peter, Paul, and--of course--Jesus. He once remarked that casting out certain demons required that the person performing the exorcism have been strengthened by much previous fasting and prayer, and the same might hold true of other extreme miracles.
However, there is a more important task than raising the physically dead, that of raising the spiritually dead. Certain people, after all, evince so little interest in spiritual matters as to seem dead to them. Bringing such sinners to a state of response and repentance may seem impossible. As with the raising of the literally dead, though, it may just require a large measure of dedication and persistence on the part of a concerned believer.
My mother was the best prayer warrior in our family, so I’m hoping those in heaven still can intercede for us down here. If all her years of prayers didn’t “raise up” those in our family who still aren’t Christians, what will?
I tell myself that we really can’t see what effects her intercession already has had. The dead boy initially didn’t seem to be responding to Elisha’s prayers either. Finally, the corpse appeared to be warming, but not yet breathing. Had Elisha let up at that point, he probably still would have lost the child.
I watched a documentary about C. S. Lewis, which detailed how J. R. R. Tolkein and another friend named Hugo Dyson talked with Lewis all one evening and into the early morning about the difference between myth and the claims of Christianity. We can assume that their prayers for him were as unrelenting as their rhetoric. Had they not persisted until he was convinced, he might not have gone on to become the writer who convinced so many others.
Obviously, the rest of us need to join Mom more fully in her spiritual CPR efforts, no matter how long it takes. Signs of a soul’s resurrection, after all, aren’t as easy to detect as a physical heartbeat. We may believe that our prayers are having no effect. However, the subject of them actually may be experiencing a gradual warming that is the first sign of rebirth.