The Thought of God, ch.3 – “The Still Small Voice”

I must have started this post a couple of months ago… it’s been a while since I’ve dipped back into The Thought of God, which is a shame, because it’s a great book! However, the fact that the book is made up of a series of articles makes it very easy to pick up again and read new material — or to review old material and finish old blog posts 🙂

I’ll try to refrain from quoting this whole chapter – as it is, I think I’ll be quoting quite a bit of it, so please bear with me. Roberts opens this article on “The Still Small Voice” (chapter 3) with this paragraph:

There is nothing about God’s being, nature, or ways which embarrasses us more than his gentleness. We readily think of power, majesty, greatness and sovereignty when we remember God. It is right and good that we should do so. These are all parts of his ways. They do not surprise or unman us because we expect them and are, in a manner, prepared for them. But God’s gentleness is somehow awesome and overwhelming to our minds. It catches us off balance and staggers us by its very wonderfulness.

He then goes on to look at three instances of God demonstrating gentleness: with Noah after the flood, with Moses asking for and then receiving a glimpse of the glory of God (after being greatly upset by the idolatry of God’s people), and with Isaiah in the temple (Isaiah 6). Roberts follows those with the example of Elijah after his incredible experience with the 450 prophets of Baal when he saw God work in spectacular fashion (1 Kings 18):

No contrast could be greater than that between the prophet’s triumph in the previous chapter and his sense of failure in this. [Jezebel heard of the slaughter of the prophets of Baal and threatened Elijah with retaliation in kind right after seeing God’s work on Mount Carmel(!), followed by his prayer for rain to end the drought of 3 years, which was answered.] The consequent emotional stress and strain on the great man of God are clear enough from the narrative: ‘He requested for himself that he might die’ [1 Kings 19:4].
 

But the prayer for death, as so often with tired preachers, is but the effect of disappointment and a sense of failure. In his exquisite care, Jehovah surrounds him with special providences and experiences which reveal the measure of his preciousness to the God who called him to this difficult ministry. An angel must bake food for him. An angel must minister affectionate advice to him and bid him draw aside from ordinary duty to hold a therapeutic interview with the King of glory himself. It is exceptional treatment by any standard and it proves the nearness of God’s care to tired servants in their time of trouble.
 

There is more, however, in this experience of Elijah on Horeb, and it is to one particular aspect of what took place there that we wish to draw attention–the ‘still small voice’ [1 Kings 19:12]. God displayed before the prophet’s eyes a succession of breath-taking and spectacular exhibitions of divine power: a mighty wind, an earthquake and then a fire. Impressive as each dramatic display was, it had in it a deficiency to which the Lord himself repeatedly draws attention. Three times over we are told that ‘the LORD was not in’ these things.
 

… But our particular concern now is to stress the wonderful truth in the passage that God’s power is seen to best effect more in his gentleness than in his acts of force. What, after all, is the highest expression of God’s greatness and glory? It is not his outward displays of vast energy in the material world, wonderful as these are, but his inward acts of grace, performed silently in the hearts and lives of men. [Emphasis added.]

[This reminds me of something C.S. Lewis said about miracles also involving changing us rather than the course of nature, or something to that effect. I’ll update this post when/if I can find the quote.]
 

Update, 1/3/08: Here’s the Lewis quote I was thinking of:

I should perhaps say, at this point, that I find no difficulty in accepting the walking on the water as historical. I suspect that the distinction often made between ‘Nature’ miracles and others seems plausible only because most of us know less about pathology and psychology than about gravitation. Perhaps if we knew all, the Divine suggestion of a single new thought to my mind would appear neither more nor less a ‘Nature’ miracle than stilling the storm or feeding the five thousand. – “Petitionary Prayer: a Problem without an Answer”, found in Christian Reflections

Roberts continues:

It will repay our time and effort to reflect a little on what the grace of God is. It is a term we use frequently but seldom appreciate for what it is. The grace of God is his infinite power used gently and for our eternal good. There is something overwhelming about an infinite, all-powerful Being acting with infinite gentleness. Elijah felt it to be so. ‘He wrapped his face in his mantle’ [1 Kings 19:13]. This he did, not when he heard the rending and convulsion of rocks, but when he heard the ‘still small voice’ of God. It is too much for our emotions when we discover that the Almighty is infinitely tender and infinitely compassionate. It shames our crude notions of God’s power and reminds us that his ways are ‘above our ways’ as the heaven is above the earth [Isa. 55:8]

Too often, I think, we tend to view the fact that God’s thoughts and ways are above ours in technical terms — thus in thorny theological matters, we pass off the difficulty in arriving at any degree of understanding as being due to how much higher God’s thoughts are than ours. But this is a much better (i.e., practical and more to the point) application of the verse: sinners that we are, we find that God’s grace and mercy overwhelm our selfish sensibilities when we see His love revealed against our poor attempts to love or serve Him.

Elijah’s experience with ‘the still small voice’ of God made me think of Roman’s 2:4 which states that “…the kindness of God leads you to repentance.” When I looked up the word for kindness (chrestos), I discovered that it was the same as the word translated “easy” in Matthew 11:30: “…My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

How awesome is that? Christ’s yoke is kindness

Lord, may I always seek to take on your burden, your yoke, which is much easier to bear than that which I want to take on myself. May I ever seek to cast my cares on You and not hold on to them – and may I never become hardened by sin so that I am not overwhelmed when I see your gentleness and kindness at work in my life.

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