God of Gentle Whispers
by REV. ROBERT ECKERT
Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church
“…the Lord wasn’t in the wind… the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake… the Lord wasn’t in the fire… After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet,” from 1 Kings 19:11-12, Common English Version.
Hebrew scripture tells the story of a prophet named Elijah, a man who zealously advocated on behalf of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at a time in the history of ancient Israel when its king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel, zealously advocated on behalf of the idol-god Baal. More than different perspectives on the mysteries of life, this was a struggle for the hearts and minds of the people of Israel, a conflict of ideologies that turned violent with Ahab and Jezebel killing prophets of God and Elijah killing prophets of Baal. When Elijah feared that the next clash with the king and queen would be the one that would cost him his life, he ran into the desert to hide and eventually holed up in a cave on Mt. Horeb, described in the story as “God’s mountain.”
While in the cave Elijah heard a voice that he identified as God asking, “Why are you here?” as in, “What the heck are you doing here?”
Elijah reminded God of his passionate service on God’s behalf, then summarized the current status of the campaign: “They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too!”
The voice told Elijah to go out of the cave and stand on the mountain, “The Lord is passing by.”
Elijah must have felt that he’d gone from the frying pan into the fire. It wasn’t enough that Ahab and Jezebel wanted him dead, now he had to answer directly to God. He was frightened, ashamed, alone, and likely expecting the worst. And he got it—a strong wind blew that tore apart rocks—God must have really been angry, but wait, “the Lord wasn’t in the wind.” Then an earthquake and then a fire, but the Lord wasn’t in either of those. Finally after all the pyrotechnics, “a sound. Thin. Quiet.” Some translations say “a still, small voice.”
In the midst of Elijah’s fear and self-recriminations the Lord passed by in stillness, offering peace, comfort and direction.
Do you ever find yourself in situations where you feel that you have failed, where you’ve boxed yourself into a corner, where events haven’t turned out as planned and you have no clue what to do next? I do. Have you ever felt isolated, detached and afraid because of it? I have. There are times when we don’t even want to show our faces because we expect, and believe we deserve, the worst.
But in those circumstances the Lord is not in the wind, earthquake or fire. God doesn’t huff and puff and blow our houses down; God doesn’t shake the foundations of what little sense of security we have left; God doesn’t respond to our shortcomings with a scorched earth policy. Rather, as parents feel compassion for their children, that’s how the Lord feels compassion for us; God knows how we are made and remembers that we are just dust, that we are fragile (Psalm 103).
I heard that thin sound, that still small voice recently in the advice of a friend who showed me how I could turn feelings of animosity for someone into an opportunity to extend grace. Whether it’s in the meditations of your own mind or heart, in sacred texts, or in fellowship with someone who loves you, may you, too, experience the tenderness of God’s love for you, even when you are struggling to love yourself.