The God of the Bible creates ex nihilo, from nothing, and this is incomparably good news. It applies not only to creation in the grand metaphysical sense but creation in a spiritual and physical sense as well.
The story of Elijah and the widow of Zarapheth demonstrates this. It was a time of drought in Israel, and Elijah is desperate. So Yahweh gives him instruction and invites him to trust. But the Lord sends the prophet to about the least likely place of succor: to a widow in a town outside of Israel’s borders.
Widows were practically helpless at this time, and indeed when Elijah asks her for something to eat, she says that she only has enough for one more meal for herself and her son. But then comes a mutual act of faith. Elijah trusts that God must have sent him to the right place, for he asks for her to make him a cake. And she trusts in him and does what he asks. What happens? The flour and oil do not run out for a year.
Both the prophet and the widow were in dire straits and both found what they needed. But the story goes on. Elijah stays with the widow and her son, and the son becomes deathly ill and finally dies. The widow—already bereft of her husband and now without any means of support, emotional or financial—despairs and lashes out at the prophet.
But once again, as she is striking bottom, the prophet asks her to trust: “Give me your son,” he says. Elijah takes the young man upstairs and cries aloud to God. Then stretching himself three times on the child’s body, he supplicates the Lord again. And the young man came back to life!
An absolutely hopeless situation became a place of hope. Not only did the young man come back to life, but the widow regained her faith.
If you feel hopeless or despairing this Lent, remember that God can bring something from nothing.