In the book of 2 Kings, Elijah’s grand exit from human history to glory on a fiery chariot and horses of fire sparks the dramatic beginning of Elisha’s ministry. As Elisha witnesses his mentor Elijah’s exit from earth, he cries out in emotion, “My father, my father.” From the moment God transports Elijah into heaven, Elisha asks a series of questions—questions that tell us that he is human and touchable even though he performs mighty works at the hand of God.
In 2 Kings 2:14, Elisha asks, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” In chapter 4, verse 26, he asks concerning the Shunammite woman’s family, “Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with thy child?” As he inquires about her well-being, her son’s state and her husband’s state, Elisha’s genuine compassion for this woman and her family is apparent. It is also apparent the Shunammite woman is comfortable talking to Elisha about her emotional pain and believes he will understand as one human to another. His multiple questions to her reveal not just that Elisha is a man of God, but he is a man with feelings and personality.
The Shunammite woman needed to express herself to someone about the death of her son, and it appears she went to the man of God for help without second thought. Shouldn’t it be that way when questions arise from our personal heartbreak, pain and misfortune that the man of God is the counselor of first choice? All too often, the man of God, the pastor, is the last person in the chain of hope and help.
Considering how Elisha deals with the loss of his mentor Elijah, the penniless widow, the Shunammite woman, Naaman’s faithlessness, his servant’s deception, and the sons of the prophets’ failure with the ax head depicts Elisha as a balanced man of God who understood people in a special way and who acted accordingly.
On page 18 of Dr. Robert Kellemen’s book, Soul Physicians, he says every human being has certain capacities of personhood. In our personhood we are relational, rational, volitional, emotional and physical. Ignoring or having contempt for the characteristics of personhood to pay more attention to our spiritual personhood is detrimental to the whole person. Elisha’s questions touch every area of his personhood including the spiritual. I use the word spiritual for the lack of a better term. There is no word in the Hebrew language for spiritual and the term is considered a foreign language to scripture and the worldview of the Messiah.
The relational side of Elisha is profound. He responds to hurt by showing his emotion. Gehazi’s treachery proves heartbreaking and painful. Like Elisha, we have questions because questions tell us something about our personhood and certainly the personhood of each individual Elisha encounters in his ministry. When the situation goes down as Gehazi conspires to obtain the monetary and material gifts Elisha refused to accept from Naaman, the man of God asks his trusted servant three questions upon his return: “Whence comest thou?” (2 King 5:25); “Went not my heart with thee…? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants?” (2 Kings 5:26). The emotional implications of the words “went not my heart with thee” is the devastation Elisha must have felt after having investing so much of himself—his heart and spirit—into Gehazi only to suffer betrayal and have his heart broken by a friend who is lying, cheating and stealing. Elisha has affection for Gehazi which endears him as a relational being.
Elisha’s many questions, such as the ones he asks of Naaman and the prophet’s wife who almost lost her sons to debt, shows his humanity. As the power of God operates in Elisha’s life, his status as a rational being does not require loss of his humanity but shows he has the mindset to ask questions. To ask the king why he rent his clothes is a question from a mind of one who thinks.
Elisha’s humanity depicts him as a volitional being because he purposely chooses to involve himself with people from all levels of life. In the story of his relationships, we see a man who is an emotional being, a man with moods who is able to respond to his inner and outer emotional world. He has feelings even to the degree that he curses Gehazi with leprosy. The man of God is a physical being living a fully connected life, especially with people.
Finally, for example and not excluding the other questions, Elisha exercises his personhood fully by solving the widow’s credit crisis. In compassion he acknowledges, assists and advises her (which allows her to participate in her deliverance). And he also reassures her boys that no one will take them, thus removing their burden as well. He tells her to sell the oil, pay her debt and to “live thou and thy children of the rest” of the money. He became a counselor to a grieving mother who grappled with her tragic situational context within the text of God’s purpose.
To ignore his humanity for a more spiritual application of the text is a theological nightmare that borders on absurdity and creates a proverbial neurosis that makes God’s people appear unsound, weird, unemotional (Vulcan like), and un-relational. Like the title of author Robert Kellemen’s book, Elisha lives and ministers as a soul physician whose questions make him human, and though called of God, Elisha never loses his integrated humanity, a mixture of one hundred percent natural with one hundred percent spirit in everything he did. Everything we do in word and deed is a spiritual act and encompasses all our humanity as we give thanks to God and the Father in the name of Jesus Christ (Colossians 3:17). The God factor in this story is that the Father above is a relational being much like we are.