Undoubtedly among the most colorful characters of the exclusively oral prophets is Elijah from Tishbe of Gilead (1Ki 17:1).1 His name means "my God is Yah."2 Though a man of desert descent, Elijah became counselor to Kings. Perhaps Elijah remains most known for his public contest with the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel (1Ki 18:19-40). There the man of God posed a public challenge to over 800 false prophets as to who really was the true and living God. Samuel's enticing account captures the reader by every stroke of his pen. One may easily imagine him or herself standing amongst the crowd mesmerized by Elijah's grit as he censures the false prophets about their puny god. 'It came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, "Call out with a loud voice, for he is a god; either he is occupied or gone aside, or is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened"' (1Ki 18:27 NASB). Following the self-inflicted physical torture and emotional meltdown hundreds of the King's men displayed, Elijah's lucid but profound prayer came. Consequently, "the fire of the LORD fell" demonstrating to the people with both a divine and miraculous signature that Yah is God and there is no other (1Ki 18:37-39). Even so, when King Ahab told Jezebel what Elijah had done, she immediately swore out a death warrant for him (1Ki 19:1-2). And, without the least hesitation, Samuel records the surprising reaction of the man of God—"And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life…" (1Ki 19:3).
Coming off such an incredible victory as Elijah had experienced one would think the man of God would have marched right into town, walked up to the King's quarters, and openly challenged both Ahab and his wicked counterpart, Jezebel, to a public duel as to who served the true and living God. Instead Elijah runs for his life down to Beersheba, cuts his assistant loose, and then backtracks to be alone in the desert wilderness where he won't be bothered (1Ki 19:1-7).
Is it possible a man of God with the spiritual stature of which few men or women will ever reach would actually run for his life? It's not only possible spiritual giants like Elijah run, it's what factually took place. He ran. What is more, Elijah fled because Elijah feared. "And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life…" How Elijah's action squares with the endless biblical exhortations to neither fear nor fail to stand one's ground is not presently apparent (Dt 20:1; Josh 1:9; 2 Ki 1:15; 2 Ch 20:15; Pr 3:25; Isa 35:4; 54:4; Je 30:10; Mk 5:36; Jn 12:15, et al). Nor is it necessary. For we know Elijah's ultimate destiny led him to Horeb where He clearly heard God speak (2 Ki 19:8). In the end, Elijah was running to God rather than running from men.
On Tuesday morning, January 20, 2015 at approximately 9:30 AM (EST), Ergun Caner stood before a scheduled board of trustees' meeting and read his resignation as the sixteenth president of Brewton-Parker College. Only a handful of trustees and confidants had advance notice concerning what was coming. Dr. Caner spoke to some of us on Monday evening what he planned to do. After our initial shock and grief we displayed by throwing out possible alternatives, his resolve became ever so clear. Caner knew what needed to be done; he knew what must be done. The scene afterward remains reminiscent in my mind to a similar event the Apostle Paul experienced. "When he [Paul] had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again" (Ac 20:36–38 NASB).
While the circumstances of Elijah the Tishbite and Ergun Caner are centuries and cultures apart, there appears to be, at least to me, some similarities between the two. Elijah had just experienced a win against the forces of evil so powerful, his prophetic ministry would be identified by it. Baal's prophets received a crushing blow. Yet within just a few hours, a wicked woman could crack her whip, and out of raw emotion, Elijah arose and ran for his life.
Similarly, Caner came down from an institutional high in the life of Brewton-Parker College. For five years the college hobbled along with a crippling accreditation status. BPC could find no path around probation and the yanking of a college's most significant credential--significant credential so far as the public is concerned--appeared unavoidably imminent. Even some in sister institutions were passing judgment upon BPC as inevitably cursed and thus headed for the scholastic graveyard. Nonetheless Ergun Caner pushed against improbable odds to show Brewton-Parker College viable and healthy. On December 6, 2014, Brewton-Parker College made history. SACSCOC did an unprecedented about-face concerning BPC's academic accreditation. All citations were dropped, and Brewton-Parker College was academically reset without probation.
Furthermore, on the heals of that incredible victory and unknown to most people, a Brewton-Parker College administration team had been tirelessly working under the Caner directive to apply for accreditation with TRACS--Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, a national accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education in the same sense SACSCOC is recognized. Only recently, a visiting team from TRACS investigated all aspects of the college, and before departing, met with the administration. While TRACS made a number of non-negotiable recommendations Brewton-Parker College must address, the end result was a glowing report affirming our school. If all goes well between now and April, Brewton-Parker College will be recommended as "candidate" for accreditation. What this means is, while only six months ago many had given up entirely on Brewton-Parker College, suggesting the impossibility of Brewton-Parker's survival because it was unaccredited, Brewton-Parker College is now poised to be the only dually accredited college in Georgia and perhaps the only dually accredited college affiliated with Southern Baptists. As Bucky Kennedy put it so succinctly during Tuesday's trustee meeting, "Ergun Caner left us better than he found us."
Make no mistake. When Ergun Caner stood before the trustees and stepped down from the sixteenth presidency of Brewton-Parker College, he was running. Running for his life. Like Elijah, Ergun fled because Ergun feared. Fearing not because of what men could do to him or say about him. Rather Ergun feared the loss of his family, the loss of his spiritual and physical health.
Put in perspective of keeping a job or healing yourself and your family, what would you do? I know exactly what I hope I would do. I hope I would run. Run for my life. And in running for my life, I trust like both Elijah the Tishbite and Ergun Caner I'd ultimately be running to God.
Brewton-Parker needed Ergun Caner for such a time as this. But now more than any other time, Ergun Caner needs his family, his healing, his health.
Arise and run, Ergun.
Run for your life.
1While Elijah's full biographical pericope may be found in 1Ki 17:1 - 2Ki 2:12, his magnificent influence spreads its wings well into the New Testament era (cp. Mk 6:15, 9:4; 15:35; Jn 1:21; Rm 11:2-4; Ja 5:17-18).
2Nelson Price, "Elijah," ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 478.