All he had was God.
And God, instead of roaring to Elijah’s rescue in the wind or the fire or the earthquake, arrives in the softest of whispers.
Up until that point, Elijah had been accustomed to dramatic pyrotechnics, the kind of powerful demonstrations that make you squint and shade your face, eyes watering from the brightness of the light. Only a few days ago in our narrative, Elijah watched as God set a soaking wet ceremonial sacrifice ablaze just to spite the priests of Baal. Before that, Elijah had seen the power of God manifest in the drought he ordained over Israel, a drought that would hold until Israel repented of her idolatry. And then, of course, we have Elijah’s own boldness, inspired by the LORD’s might, that enabled him to challenge a wicked king to his face.
But now, after the blaze on Mt. Carmel has fizzled out, and King Ahab’s homicidal queen, Jezebel, is out for Elijah’s blood—now more than ever before, our beleaguered prophet needs a sign, a big one, to assure him that everything will in fact be okay.
What he gets, though, is the sound of sheer silence, a few words rather than a thousand fireworks, an anti-climactic revelation when all he wanted was for God to do some additional smiting or perhaps set the royal palace on fire.
As a child, I remember singing “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do” right after hearing stories about God’s acts of creation, of Jesus calming the storms, of the Apostles raising the dead in the name of their Lord. Each of us children in the Sunday school classroom were primed and ready to spot the metaphorical lightning strikes, the wonders that would irrefutably prove God to be God. Then, as we got older, the expectations became more subtle. We began asking God for signs—just get rid of the bully. Just make it super clear what I’m supposed to do. Just give me a new job, a new friend, a new passion, and I’ll know you’ll have heard my prayers. Like Elijah, we find ourselves looking to God for a firestorm or an earthquake, but what we end up with is a whisper, the sound of sheer silence, or with nothing more than a hand gripping ours as we flounder in a stormy sea of troubles. It doesn’t seem fair—we’re inviting God to divinely intervene, but all we’re getting is a smile from our neighbor across the street or a crumpled $20 stuffed in a forgotten jacket pocket.
These small moments of God’s mercy are easy to miss, easy to explain away. We find ourselves hunting for a big solution when, all along, God has been gently and quietly sowing our path with mercies, guiding our wayward feet through the dark moments of life and toward his light, using whatever comes to hand: a goofy friend, a fuzzy dog, a beautiful sunset.
God’s whispers, quiet as they may, are nevertheless words of creation, changing their hearers, who are then empowered to change the world. “Go back to Israel,” the LORD tells his servant, but on the way there you will anoint two kings and call another prophet to help you in your struggle against Israel’s idolatry. You are not alone, Elijah. There are people who will help you, and hidden amongst your enemies are 7,000 Israelites who are still fighting to live righteous lives amidst the decay and injustice of their circumstances. The war hasn’t ended. No conclusive victory has been won. But hope is once more in the air, breathed out from the mouth of God.
“My God is so big, so strong and so mighty,” that sometimes he works like a drop of water on the rock, spending years carving a divot in the face of a mountain even when we know he could just snap his fingers and have it done in an instant. His gentleness may not fit our idea of getting things done. If we were in charge . . . we might say. Yet, God’s smallest miracles, his quiet voice, his steady hand, these are our companions on the way. St. Paul tells us that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved—and I do believe that’s true, even when the saving comes and goes as quick as a flash in the dark. We are not alone. God is here to help us. AMEN.