Hearing God in a whisper

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. – 1 Kings 19:11-12

In our modern world it’s very uncommon to pay attention to everything that goes on around us. I remember traveling to New York City a few years back where, in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, I began to act crazy just to see how people would react. No one paid any attention at all to my antics, but simply walked right on by. This certainly isn’t uncommon; we know that in Washington DC world-famous violinist Joshua Bell played as a street performer in the subway, almost everyone walked on by him. They couldn’t take the time to sit and listen to a masterpiece. While our hurried nature might create comical situations or show that we Americans might lack an appreciation for the arts, there is also a dark side to our hurried and busy lives. There is the famous story of Kitty Genovese and how no one heeded her cries for help, or recently of the homeless man in New York who was stabbed and over 25 people simply passed by without offering help to the bleeding man. The excuses given? “Well seeing homeless people lay on the sidewalk isn’t anything new in New York.”

Is it any wonder, then, that in our modern world that people are losing faith in God? Certainly people are “spiritual,” but their spirituality often lacks any nuanced beliefs and is simply an overarching, “Yes I believe in something” rather than specified beliefs about God. For instance, they might quip “everything happens for a reason,” but lack any reason for having that belief. I think of the opening to John Caputo’s book The Weakness of God where he writes (and I’m paraphrasing), “Even if God knew about the tsunami [in Indonesia], there’s nothing He could have done to stop it.” More and more people are adopting this similar type of nihilistic spirituality, where God doesn’t know the future and has no control over the events that occur. Just as we are taken by surprise so is God. Just as we are overcome by evil and beaten down by it, so is God.

Why have people abandoned faith in God and turned towards the belief that God doesn’t know what’s coming, or ignored Him completely? Because sometimes God is heard in the whispers of life rather than the boisterous movements. In our hurried and loud society we are more likely to listen to the most profuse screamer rather than the quiet voice that calls us to a reasonable discussion. We would rather have the white noise of the television on in the background than to sit in complete silence. We want immediate results rather than long, drawn-out solutions. God, being eternal, works on His own time and works everything to His own end in His own time; such a God is not compatible with our cultural expectations.

Where is God when bad things happen to us? Is He hiding? Is He powerless? Or has He allowed evil to befall us so that we might seek Him out? So long as we are caught up in the noise of our modern world we’ll never know. Sometimes God simply desires that we wait out the storms and earthquakes, knowing they precede His presence, but that He is not in them. He just wants us to wait for the silence so that we can hear Him whisper to us to remind us that He is still here and helping us along the path to eternity.

When we pray and we don’t get the answer we want, we come to the conclusion that God doesn’t care or that He hasn’t answer the prayer. But sometimes we forget that God answers prayers in the most subtle way; sometimes He doesn’t come riding on a cloud of lightning and thunder, sometimes He doesn’t strike down legions with His stare. Sometimes He answers a prayer in a whisper, not to say, “I’ve solved your problem” or “Let me fix this for you,” but simply to say, “I’m still here.”