Still, Small Voice of God / The Bible Corrects the Bible
1 Kings 19:1-13a, and 1 Kings 19:13b-17 (with Hosea 1:4)
Still, Small Voice of God and The Bible Corrects the Bible
June 19, 2016 Maple Grove UMC
What a story! There is so much in it. At one level this is the story of the beleaguered Elijah trying to run away and resign from the position of prophet; but God won’t let him. It’s also a message about burnout and a kind of recovery. But what I want to focus on today is that "sound of sheer silence," or as the version I grew up with puts is, that "still, small voice" of God. The commentaries say that this almost untranslatable phrase is a combination of the Hebrew words for "sound" and "silence"—it’s contradictory, paradoxical, mystical.
Before the silence there was a violent wind, but the Lord was not in the wind and Elijah stayed hidden in his cave. And there was a terrible earthquake, but the Lord was not in the shaking of the ground, and Elijah stayed hidden in his cave. And there was a raging fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, and the prophet stayed in his cave. And then, finally, silence. . . And Elijah knew, he just knew. He wrapped his face in his mantle and stepped out of his cave.
Life is full of wind and earthquake and fire. And so often we seem to prefer noise and drama to silence—we schedule our lives so full there’s no time to sit, if there’s a moment’s down time we have to piddle with our phones, and the TV is always on in the background. Perhaps only after the thunderous noise has died down can we hear the still, small voice of God.
And now I’m going to practice what I’m preaching. I’ll be quiet now for a few minutes, and I invite you to be still and listen for what God may be saying in the silence. There’s an index card in your bulletin in case you want to write down something that comes to you, but it’s not a requirement. After three or four minutes, Greg will start playing, and that will be your cue to turn in your hymnal to the beautiful, meditative song, "Near to the Heart of God," No. 472. But don’t fiddle with your hymnal just yet. Simply listen in the silence for the still, small voice of God.
A time of silence is observed
That still, small voice of God would have been a wonderful place for this story to end. But unfortunately the story doesn’t end there. What Elijah hears from God—or what he thinks he hears—is a message of violence and destruction, to anoint and bless Jehu and Elisha to go on a killing spree against King Ahab and his family. And in 2 Kings 9 and 10, that’s exactly what takes place.
And in 1 & 2 Kings the Bible reports this violence as triumphant, as the will of God. But it’s important to note that this is not the only thing the Bible has to say about this killing. As you can see on the screen, a few generations later, the prophet Hosea says that the killing Elijah blessed and that Jehu carried out was not God’s will at all, but was a thing of shame, something to be punished. And Hosea is in the Bible too. There’s more than one thing going on in this big and difficult book called the Bible.
Too many people think the Bible only speaks with one voice, that everything in the Bible is eternally and timelessly true. That if the Bible condones violence, then violence must be okay. And if the Bible seems to judge and condemn certain kinds of people, then we must also judge and condemn them. But sometimes even the Bible corrects the Bible, and surely for us Christians every verse of scripture has to be read in light of the all-inclusive love of Christ who gave his life for all people.
The Bible is not one timeless truth. The Bible is in conversation with itself. The Bible has a conversation about which is more important—faith or works, what should marriage and family look like, what is the best way to show reverence and respect for God? I found this teaching in a little book by Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, called Being Christian. In it Williams says that this moment where Hosea corrects 1 & 2 Kings is an important recognition that "it is possible to grow in understanding and to think again about the past."1
And isn’t that what we need to do after what took place in Orlando last week—to grow in our understanding and to think again about our past. To use the Bible—or the Quran—to justify violence or vengeance of any kind is to draw on the worst of our religious traditions, not the best. It’s not that there isn’t violence in the Bible—of course there is, but that violence has been corrected by the fearless and tender love of Christ. And to use the Bible to judge or exclude certain kinds of people is to miss the point of Christ’s coming. Again, it’s not that there isn’t judgment and exclusion in the Bible, but they are corrected by Jesus when he says, "Come to me, all you—not some but all--who labor and are carrying heavy burdens" (Matthew 11:28) and they’re corrected by Paul when he says, "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
Yes, there is violence and hatred in the Bible, just as there are violence and hatred in our country and violence and hatred n my own heart when I see what that man did. But let’s let the Bible correct the Bible, and let’s ask Christ heal our hearts so that we can change and heal our country.
1 Rowan Williams, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), 38.