1 Kings 19:11-13
11 He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass 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; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
Isn’t it amazing how you can read a piece of Scripture dozens of times, and each time you see something new? I’ve always paid attention to what is present in this story — the wind so strong it shatters rocks, the earthquake, the fire, a silence, all caused by the presence and power of God who has come to have a chat with his servant, Elijah.
But I’ve never noticed what’s absent from this story, namely, Elijah’s eyesight. Elijah blindfolded himself before leaving the cave to go and talk to God. The mantle would have covered his entire face, including his eyes. It’s a safety measure: Elijah knows, like Moses found out when God came to have a chat with him, that no one can look at God’s face and live long enough to tell the tale (Exodus 33:20). So Elijah walks out of the cave blind as a bat. The rest of his senses won’t help, either. The wind blew, but God wasn’t in the taste of the dust. The earth shook, but God wasn’t in the touch of the earth. The fire raged, but God wasn’t in the smell of the ash. All Elijah has are his ears.
Usually when we ask questions like, “Where is God in all of this?” or “Where do you see God in such and such?”, we make it about our eyes. For God to be present, God has to be visible. Vision is the favorite of the five senses, after all. About 80% of all learning is visual learning. The only organ more complex than the eyeball is the brain. We can see about 10 million different colors with our eyes. And when someone disagrees with us, or we think they’re plain stupid, we say, “Are you blind!? Can’t you see…?” (imagine how that sounds to a blind person).
But here’s a story of a God who passes over the “Voted Most Popular” of the five senses and shows up in sound. And not just any sound. Silence. Elijah turns off all other incoming data, tunes his ears to the sound of silence, and simply listens, and only then does he hear the voice of God.
Our five senses are overloaded with data almost every minute of the day, and it usually comes through our eyes. Let’s turn them off for a few minutes and let silence be our guide. Let’s invite silence to be the finger pointing to the presence and power of God. God isn’t in the noise. God isn’t in the barrage of breaking news. God isn’t in the ubiquity of screens and ads and streaming services and clicks. Silence is the container God chooses. Will we listen?
Loving God, you are able. You are able to juggle mountains, ignite stars, and vibrate the foundations of the earth. Yet you have chosen silence to be your loudspeaker. Help us, O God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to stop, sit, and listen, so we may hear you calling us out of the noise and confusion and into eternal life. Amen.