By Steven Norris
Two weeks ago today, I was on the phone with ministerial colleagues, church members, and friends, trying to determine the best course of action for our congregation in response to the Covid-19 crisis. I was listening for a voice of reason, a voice of calm, a voice of guidance. Not only that, but much time was spent on my knees in prayer, asking for some kind of divine guidance.
As I thought about this today, my mind went to a story from the Hebrew Bible. In the book of 1 Kings 19, Elijah is in a situation where his life and health are in danger. He has angered Queen Jezebel and is forced to flee her wrath. After traveling for forty days and forty nights (an interesting parallel for our current Lenten journey), Elijah ends up in a cave on Mt. Sinai.
Standing at the mouth of the cave, we read that a mighty windstorm came by, but God was not in the wind. After the wind, an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but God was not in the fire.
So it is with us. Many people are caught up in the whirlwind of the latest news reports and official press conferences. Many are panicked because the ground beneath their feet is no longer stable and threatens to open up and swallow everything they know whole. Distraught and confused, many are running from one fire alarm to the next, hoping that someone can bring calm in the midst of chaos.
The scriptures then tell us, “And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” God spoke…but it wasn’t the sound of alarm. It wasn’t in the chaos and confusion. To hear God, Elijah needed to slow down, breathe, and as the Psalmist teaches, “Be still and know that [God is] God.” Elijah needed to quiet the voices all around him for a few moments to hear the voice of Truth calling out.
Many of us are asking similar questions these days. Where is God in the midst of this pandemic? Why did God allow this to happen? What is God trying to say to us? Is this punishment? Is this a wakeup call? I don’t pretend to know the answers to those existential questions.
Here’s what I’ve seen, though. Every morning at 8:15, I’ve joined with friends scattered across six states to pray together. I’ve seen church members accustomed to seeing one another for an hour on Sunday, reach out daily to share life together in real and meaningful ways. I’ve seen strangers willing to help strangers by running errands, buying groceries, picking up medications, and truly caring for one another. I’ve seen schools, churches, and other organizations band together and help one another completely transform the nature of their work overnight. I’ve seen businesses being led by generosity and loyalty to employees over profit. I’ve seen glimpses here and there of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
It may be a gentle whisper, to be sure…but God is speaking…if we have ears to hear.