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Lead Me On: When Stephen Colbert Says That’s Not Good Enough

Are you measuring against the wrong benchmark?

Leading up to his last episode of The Colbert Report, more than one million viewers tuned in nightly to laugh at Stephen Colbert.

His Emmy award-winning jokes were fired at viewers fast and easy. However, Colbert recently told a Slate podcast audience that those jokes represented long days of hard labor with his writers. Colbert said he and his staff forced themselves to write and rewrite jokes and to “push all the way through and not give up at a certain point and go, (sigh), ‘That’s good enough.’”

The quagmire of “good enough.”

It looks enticingly similar to “good” and can make you think you have traveled all the way over to an elusive finished product known as a “breakthrough.” Right up until the very exact moment that you realize you…haven’t.

Just ask Elijah.

Elijah is a serious name among believers. Big. Huge. Among other things, he is famous for sticking it to 450 prophets of Baal by taunting their insufficient god and then bringing down first fire and then rain that relieved an entire nation from a devastating drought. (1 Kings 18)

Impressive stuff. Elijah thought so too. So much so that after his big performance, which had his entire audience chanting God’s name, Elijah tucked his cloak into his belt and happily ran. Ran!

He ran all the way to the nation’s capital, ready to witness what all that chanting got him—hopefully a big, fat power shift from the religion of no-good Baal to the religion of Elijah’s one true God.

Alas. That is not what happened. No shift in power. No shift in religion. In fact, the king’s wife got smoking mad at Elijah. She sent word that she was preparing to stick it right back to him in the worst way.

Poor Elijah. Turned out his better-than-good-enough was not quite as good as he thought.

Wherein we are reminded that what looks like a breakthrough, walks like a breakthrough, and quacks like a breakthrough, in the case of the Bible, may not be the breakthrough that God had in mind after all. It is a confusing attribute that comes up in Bible stories all the time.

It certainly confused Elijah.

What was a self-respecting, miracle-inducing, lone prophet of the one true God to do in such a situation?

Run. Like a scared little boy. Elijah ran away from the king’s wife and eventually sat down under a tree, wishing he would die.

Elijah takes a lot of knocks in church circles about this running business. He had just brought down rain and fire by the hand of the most high God—only to be intimidated a mere few lines later by some girl? Not cool.

However, confusion will do that to a person. We know the drill. It’s disorienting. Especially when we think we have pushed something through to a flourishing God-finish, only to find out we were measuring success with the wrong benchmark

What is God known to do in these situations? In the spirit of the-Bible-is-always-just-a-little-different-than-I-thought-it-would-be, the author approaches this sad Elijah character with the kindest thing.

Warm bread.

“As he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, ‘Get up and eat!’ He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So he ate and drank and lay down again” (1 Kings 19:5-6).

Bread. Rest.

Exactly what Elijah didn’t even know that he needed most. Which just goes to show that pushing through “good enough” with God is a very unique undertaking. The practicalities can look odd. All hope may appear lost. The process is uncomfortable and hard, and we can feel like failed soldiers in God’s army, right up until the pushing through testifies to what Elijah’s ancestors had been told: “The Lord did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! Rather, it was simply that the Lord loves you….” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

Understanding that helped Elijah get his groove back. There was more bread. More angel. More God! A famous scene with a still, small voice. A list of friends to help with upcoming assignments. A God caring for his child, who needed a hand.

And then, back to work. “So Elijah went and found Elisha…” (1 Kings 19:19)

Onward. After all, “The Lord your God is indeed God.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)

There is a great deal left to push through with the help of God, whom, Elijah found out, is inconceivably and affectionately…personal.

As for Colbert, he hoped people would most affectionately not take him personally at all—or so he told each guest before he started his show. He told the Slate audience that he instructed each guest, “I do the show in character. He’s an idiot. Please honestly disabuse me of my ignorance and we’ll have a great time.”

Later this year, as Colbert takes the helm as new host of CBS’s The Late Show, an entirely new viewing audience will have to decide if that’s good enough.

Janelle Alberts is a freelance PR and media relations specialist and has managed communication needs for clients such as Microsoft, Wells Fargo and UPS. She started her first religious column in 2010 for the Akron Beacon Journal and has since written for Atlanta Parent Magazine, Christianity Today’s women’s online sections, and Catholic News Service, among others.

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