The Sound of (sheer) Silence

There is something transcendent about the high places on our planet.

There is something transcendent about the high places on our planet.

Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-18 (NRSV)

Elijah is one of my favorite figures in the Bible.  In the previous chapter, he has a lot of courage to face down the prophets of Baal when he was so greatly outnumbered.  He trusts in God to see him through and God does not let him down.

That’s why this story is so important.  After the dust settles, Queen Jezebel threatens his life because she was a supporter of Baal.

And even though he just had a victorious showdown with miraculous intervention, he fears for his life and heads for the hills.  As an outside observer, we want to shake some sense into Elijah and say, “After all you just witnessed, why would you run?”

But what makes this such a great story is that it shows Elijah as all-too human.  We all have moments of courage and cowardice.  We want to highlight our bravery and sweep the not-so-spectacular moments under the rug.  I would be happier if no one else knew anything about them.

Yet, the Biblical authors share these details precisely so we can connect with them.  To be afraid is to think with blinders on.  When we are afraid, our ability to make good decisions actually decreases substantially.  So Elijah runs away when maybe the best thing for him would be to stand firm in the Lord.

Elijah travels to the same mountain where Moses encountered God and received the 10 Commandments.  He sees a lot of flash in wind, earthquakes and fire but he doesn’t perceive God in any of the chaos.  This reminds Oklahomans in particular that God is not sending tornadoes as retribution!

Rather, Elijah encounters God in the stillness following the turmoil.  The New Revised Standard Version relates a “sound of sheer silence.”  The King James Version translates it as a “still small voice.”  I think I prefer the new Common English Bible which states, “there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.”

This reminds us that we can fill up the space in life with a lot of noise.  We can say a lot of words and phrases when we pray.  But maybe the most meaningful communication with God is when we can stop and listen.  When we hear nothing, our faith can allow a connection that is greater than the absence of sound.  It is mystical and it allows us to simply be.

Elijah interprets that God is not done with him yet.  In fact, he is not the only faithful person alive.  God begins to connect Elijah with others so that God’s work can take on greater meaning.  But he might not have been able to hear this if he hadn’t stopped running and stopped talking.  Good lessons to be learned almost three thousand years later!

In Christ,
Sam

Check out Sam’s Blog here:  http://precedinggrace.blogspot.com/

 Photo by Trekking Rinjani via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.