“(JSB* – “And lo, the Lord passed by.”) “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces 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 a sound of sheer silence.”NRSV – (“a soft murmuring sound.”*)

A week ago last Sunday, our pastor, Kenny Dickson, gave a sermon on 1 Kings 19:1-18. He relayed the story of Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah. Concerning the above passage, he concluded that God was in the silence and it is in times of silence that we can hear the Lord the loudest. I thoroughly enjoyed his sermon, but while the lay reader was reading the scripture, verses 11 and 12 brought a thought to my mind that deserved returning to at a later time. Which would be now.

With all the disasters that have occurred in the past couple of years, the question – does God bring or cause disasters? – has come up on considerably more than one occasion. I think the two verses above not only play a significant role in Elijah’s story, but also answer the question of “where is God” when natural disasters occur. The term natural is deceptive, not duly taking into account the effect of the human race on the planet. Either way, it refers to the actions of nature over the course of time. But when disasters occur, God is not sitting on a golden throne causing the destruction of his creation to unfold.

I find it interesting that the Jewish Study Bible (JSB) begins the second half of verse 11 – after God tells Elijah to come out of the cave and “stand on the mountain before the Lord” – with “And lo, the Lord passed by.” Without this sentence, the NRSV translation seems to imply that God is not present until the “sound of sheer silence.” Conversely, the JSB translation says “There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord…” implying that the Lord was the ultimate cause. The NRSV indicates that the great wind came “before the Lord,” intimating that the Lord was not the cause, just an observer.

On the surface, as far as the plot is concerned, the mighty wind, the earthquake, and the fire – even the sheer silence – are unnecessary. Elijah gave God the same answer to his question “Why are you here?” both before and after the four examples of nature’s force. The sheer silence immediately following the violence of the earth was a sudden, terrifying silence – not knowing what might come next. But in verse 13 we learn that Elijah did not emerge from the cave until “hearing” the sheer silence or upon hearing the soft murmuring sound.

The passage does not give any indication as to whether Elijah was coming out of the cave before the mighty display of nature or not. Certainly he would have stayed in the cave when the “storms” began, regardless. Then, as is stated, he “wrapped his face in his mantle” and walked to the cave entrance. And God asks him the same question. To which, as we have said, Elijah gives the same answer. Then the Lord tells Elijah how to proceed.

So why include verses 11-14 if not to emphasize that the mighty wind, the earthquake, and the fire were not of the Lord. But after the acts of nature – as Pastor Dickson surmised – God could be found in the sheer silence (or the soft murmuring sounds). Which is why “when Elijah heard it,” he came out of the cave – where the Lord was waiting. Quite possibly the Holy Spirit, but the Old Testament did not include the concept.

As a result of free will and “having dominion” over the earth (Gen. 1:26 & 28), the world is to a large extent – and for better or worse – in our hands. And although God created nature, it too has “mind of its own” as it were. How else could God be disappointed in us? Because we let our faith and trust in God falter, not to mention ignoring his gift of grace.

When a natural disaster occurs, it happens “before the Lord,” but the Lord is not in the disaster (he did not cause it). But after the disaster, depending on the circumstances, the Lord appears in the sheer silence or soft murmur. Which is when we come out of the cave and listen to the Lord. He helps us get over the trauma, gather together as children of God, and move on. The effect of our existence on the earth is, literally, our “cross to bear.” But the Lord is there in the resulting silence, waiting to comfort us and help us persevere.

Peace be with you.

* Jewish Study Bible