Reading in 1 Kings 17 today about how Elijah is fed by the ravens got me to thinking about our literary history with these big, black birds. Arguably the most famous raven in literature is the one in Poe’s poem. What a different image we get in the Bible from the ominous image of Poe’s bird. The birds in Elijah’s story remind me more of the birds in the Disney animated movie “Snow White” (1937) because in both instances the birds are being quite helpful. In contrast, Poe’s bird brings only its haunting presence into the dark, dreary night and a single word, “Nevermore.” Poe’s bird seems more like the menacing attackers in Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” (1963). In contrast, the Bible uses birds to remind us of God’s promise of provision. In 1 Kings, we see birds feeding Elijah bread and meat. (Ick! I wonder where that meat came from?) Similarly, Jesus uses ravens as an example of God’s ongoing care: “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12:24).
Ravens in literature can be signs of darkness and death. But in the Bible they are also connected with life. They keep Elijah alive during the famine that struck Israel. They also show up in God’s response to Job after he and his friends have worn themselves out with speeches of speculation about why Job is having so much trouble. God starts out asking, “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (Job 38:2-3). And one of God’s questions to Job is, “Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?” (Job 38:41).
You’d think I’d control my wandering mind in the face of God’s forceful questioning, but instead I’m flashing back to an old plumbing commercial in which the announcer asks a series of questions like, “Who knows what evil lurks in your plumbing?” A sort of goofy character answers each question with, “Adee do!” And as God asks, “Who…?” I’m wondering if Job is sitting there stammering, “Yahweh do!”
The redundant refrain of that commercial brings me back to Poe’s black bird who only says, “Nevermore.” And this for some reason reminds me of my own whininess yesterday when I was trying to figure out why some bookkeeping reports wouldn’t reconcile. I wonder if God gets tired of hearing us say the same things over and over? So often our incessant refrain is our worry about having enough money for everything. If our whining is like the man in “The Raven” trying to solve life’s problems by talking to a bird, then I think we’re in trouble. But if in our whining we’re turning to God and trusting him to hear our fears and help us through them, then I think we’re going to be ok. But we might just have to figure out how to accept help from ravens.