C. S. LEWIS IN THE PROBLEM OF PAIN SPEAKS OF THE “INTOLERABLE COMPLIMENT.”
“We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the “intolerable compliment.” Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.”
In Sunday’s teaching Elijah is once again being “rubbed and scraped and re-commenced” for the third time. The first was at the Brook Cherith, the second meeting the widow of Zarephath’s need for food. And now after living for several years in the Prophet’s Quarters in her house, calamity came calling.
I imagine Elijah came home one day to find the widow in heart wrenching anguish, holding her small son as tight as she could in her arms. Immediately Elijah sensed something horribly wrong. Perhaps he asks what is upsetting, can he do anything. She responds as a mother grieving her son’s death, lashing out at the Prophet, even accusing him of causing the son’s death.
What’s a Prophet to do? Surely he grew fond of the lady and her son. Elijah was able to deal with an evil king, the isolation and solitude or the Brook Cherith, a long arduous journey to Zarephath but not this. How was he to take this intolerable compliment? When calamity comes calling how do you respond? Are you tempted to “settle for a thumb-nail sketch?” This Sunday we shall see how a godly man reacts when calamity comes calling.