Please, Don't Poke the Bear
A powerful message for today’s church comes from Prophet Elisha's life, in just a few lines of sacred text: “. . . There came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them,” 2 Kings 2:23-24.
I have a vivid memory of hearing this Bible story in Sabbath School as a small child—then going home and asking my mother about it. She gently talked me through the “bear story,” teaching me about being kind, not calling people names or using hurtful words, and being respectful of my elders, especially our pastors and church leaders. I never forgot the “bear story” (For months I was convinced there were bears under my bed.) or my mother’s words.
At age 10, I was abruptly reminded of my mother’s wise council when I was summarily kicked out of school (only for an afternoon) for writing a few not so nice words about my teacher. After my tearful apology, I resolved, "Never put anything into writing I do not want the whole world to read." As an adult I am daily reminded of that lesson with a text at the end of each e-mail I send: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer,” Psalm 19:14.
The recent rabid rhetoric of some notable SDA retirees caused me to reread the counsel on Elisha’s “bear story” in Prophets and Kings.
"Elisha was a man of mild and kindly spirit; but that he could also be stern is shown by his course when, on the way to Bethel, he was mocked by ungodly youth who had come out of the city. These youth had heard of Elijah's ascension, and they made this solemn event the subject of their jeers, saying to Elisha, "Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head."
Had Elisha allowed the mockery to pass unnoticed, he would have continued to be ridiculed and reviled by the rabble, and his mission to instruct and save in a time of grave national peril might have been defeated. This one instance of terrible severity was sufficient to command respect throughout his life. For fifty years he went in and out of the gate of Bethel, and to and fro in the land, from city to city, passing through crowds of idle, rude, dissolute youth; but none mocked him or made light of his qualifications as the prophet of the Most High.
Even kindness should have its limits. Authority must be maintained by a firm severity, or it will be received by many with mockery and contempt. The so-called tenderness, the coaxing and indulgence, used toward youth by parents and guardians, is one of the worst evils which can come upon them. In every family, firmness, decision, positive requirements, are essential.
Reverence, in which the youth who mocked Elisha were so lacking, is a grace that should be carefully cherished. Every child should be taught to show true reverence for God. Never should His name be spoken lightly or thoughtlessly. Angels, as they speak it, veil their faces. With what reverence should we, who are fallen and sinful, take it upon our lips!
Reverence should be shown for God's representatives-- for ministers, teachers, and parents, who are called to speak and act in His stead. In the respect shown them, God is honored.
Courtesy, also, is one of the graces of the Spirit and should be cultivated by all. It has power to soften natures which without it would grow hard and rough. Those who profess to be followers of Christ, and are at the same time rough, unkind, and uncourteous, have not learned of Jesus. Their sincerity may not be doubted, their uprightness may not be questioned; but sincerity and uprightness will not atone for a lack of kindness and courtesy." Prophets and Kings, pp. 236-237.
The increased caustic rhetoric of the world has now marched boldly down the aisles of our church via books and articles widely distributed by church leaders. In them we hear these disparaging words:
“Authoritarian” – favoring blind submission to authority
“Dictator” – one granted autocratic, despotic, tyrannical power
“Obsessive” – a persistent disturbing preoccupation - unreasonable feeling
“Inquisitional” – a tribunal for the discovery/punishment of heresy; investigation with no regard for individual rights
“Papalism” – advocacy of papal supremacy
So how should we respond to the continuous disparagers, the retired name-callers, the non-compliant? Shall we not demonstrate something better?
Putting away “childish things” (1Cor. 13:11) is a sign of maturity. Through the “bear story,” Ellen White describes spiritual maturity as speaking words of courtesy, kindness and reverence toward church leadership. Choosing to do otherwise may re-awaken God's slumbering “bears.”