Sunday, December 11, 2011

can we stop misusing I Kings 19?

We always expect God to speak dramatically because He's God--booming voices, earthqukes. And this passage reminds us that we have a God who whispers, a God who speaks between the lines, a God whose voice is easy to miss. Where might I hear the whisper of God today?...Who do you know that is in the wrong place? Pray for them now, that they hear God whisper this Christmas, somehow, somewhere, saying "What are you doing here?"...God, we pray that you would whisper this Christmas, to prodigal, to people who are far from you. Would you bring them home? Would you whisper into their consciences, into their families, and into their dreams?
Peter Grieg, in Day 11 of the 2011 Advent videos from 24-7 Prayer

These statement are based on I Kings 19:9-13.

And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks 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 still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

Ok, let's look at this.

I'm trying to think of what things were like when God spoke to other people in the Bible. There was the time He addressed Moses from the burning bush. There was the time He (likely Christ) came with a couple of angels to Abraham and they talked concerning Sodom and Gomorrah. There was the time He came in a cloud to Sinai when He gave the law to Moses. There were times, such as with Gideon and Daniel, when He sent angels to give His Words. There were other times with the prophets when He gave them visions. And there were other ways in which God spoke to the prophets but that weren't really expounded upon.

So, given the various and sundry ways that God spoke to people, why is it that this one time with Elijah is taken out from all those others, and treated as if it were and is normative?

Plus, look at the passage itself. Grieg can make a big deal about God whispering, or at least speaking in a still small voice as other translations put it. But the thing is, when God spoke to Elijah, Elijah heard a real voice, not some kind of voice speaking between the lines or whatever, or to his conscience. It was a voice he heard with his ears, not a vaguely-there feeling.

In a sense, I'm in an awkward position. On the one hand, I'm not a cessationist. On the other hand, charismatics have made an absolute embarrassment of the spiritual gifts. And this emphasis on things like hearing God's whispers, based on the misapplication of this I Kings passage, is an example.

Getting into whether or not God talks to people to tell them to go into ministry, or to move somewhere else, or whatever, is not something I want to go into here, probably because my own mind is still not settled on it. But I no longer buy the idea that the voice of God is some kind of inner voice or whisper to the conscience. That sounds very new-agey.

Rather, it seems it would be wisest to point out that God has already spoken, and we have that in God's Word, the Bible. The truth is, in most things, we already know what to do. We don't have to stand in the toothpaste aisle at the grocery store, trying to hear some strange inner voice to tell you to get Colgate or Ultrabrite or the generic store brand or maybe not to brush your teath at all.

So, can we please stop with the misinterpretations and misapplications of Elijah hearing God speak to him. Please.

1 comment:

Nick said...

"So, given the various and sundry ways that God spoke to people, why is it that this one time with Elijah is taken out from all those others, and treated as if it were and is normative?"

Christians are trying to make sense of a a collection of texts that says over and over again, "God speaks to people," but today, we're not hearing it. Using that verse in that way helps people to their faith. We have our experience of reality and then we encounter the Scriptures and try to fit it into our experience. Nobody is seeing burning bushes, but the "still small voice" becomes easier to believe. Verses like this, and the idea that prayer can be answered in mysterious unexpected ways, helps people to have faith, when our experience doesn't match the biblical narrative.

I think interpreting Elijah's experience that way comes largely from the individualism found in evangelicalism. Evangelicals belief it's all about me and my relationship with God. They say things like the Bible is like a love letter written to you. They take the Bible out of the context of words written by and for communities, and think it's a personal selfhelp book. This is an unfortunate side-effect of the printing press and modernism.

Maybe the better thing is not to say, "Oh, you won't see the burning bush, or hear a booming voice. God speaks with a still small voice," but instead we should jsut say, "God's not talking to you."