40 days in the wilderness: the still small voice

40 days and nights committed to exploring the scary places in my mind, life, and faith in order to meditate on the question: What does it mean to trust in God? Updates every 5 days.

The scary place: hearing from God doesn’t signify the end of a painful situation.
The prophet Elijah spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness.
He was running from Queen Jezebel, wife of Ahab, the King of Israel. Jezebel encouraged her husband to abandon worshiping Yahweh and turn to other gods instead. When Elijah killed all of the royal-appointed prophets of Baal, Jezebel got angry and wanted to kill him. He ran off into the wilderness where, tired and alone, he asked God for permission to die.
Instead, an angel brought him a bread cake and water and told him to “arise and eat.” For 40 days and nights, that food sustained him as he traveled to Horeb, the mountain of God.
I still remember when my dad told me this story. I was in middle school or high school at the time. The next part of the story is now both of our favorites.
Once at Horeb, the voice of the Lord tells him to stand on the mountain before God.

And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking 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 sound of a gentle blowing. – 1 Kings 19:11-12

God was in the breeze. The King James version calls it “the still small voice.”

Elijah was used to huge miracles, Dad explained. He expected God to be in the earthquake or the fire — big expressions of majesty and power. Instead, God came in a still small voice. And I can hear my dad saying those words in a gentle and earnest tone that has stuck with me for 20 years. Dad said that sometimes we have to listen for God to whisper.

At the time, this struck me as a beautiful sentiment. I remember being excited about hearing God whisper. And over the years, I believe I have heard this whisper, time and time again.

But sometimes, the air is still; there is no breeze—no sign of God. Sometimes, like Elijah, I’m in the wilderness asking God to do something, say something. I’ve even come close to wishing for death.

Although Elijah heard from God before those 40 days in the wilderness, he’d already gotten to the point of being over the whole thing, and God asked him to keep going.

Mount Horeb
Mount Horeb

I don’t understand why life has to be so hard. I think the biggest question I have about believing in the Judeo-Christian God is why, if God could create any type of existence, did They choose one that allows for suffering? This is what makes me feel naive, especially when I talk to friends and loved ones who are not believers.

Why would I believe in a Creator who allows for the pain of Their creation?

Why did Elijah need 40 days in the wilderness?

And yet I do believe in a loving Creator. Without complete understanding. But definitely with questioning.

I’ve been comforted by the still small voice during times of great pain. Hearing it has never meant that the time for pain is over. God seems to always ask me to keep going.

Like Elijah, whenever I’ve come closest to wanting to give up on life or God, I seem to get fed by something divine just enough to keep going, keep believing.


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