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Finding God in the Silence
When we speak with people about Covenant Eschatology, we often are blasted with a number of questions that we can usually answer quite easily; but one question comes up often, and it is not its difficulty, but its implications that concern our audience: If Christ returned in A.D. 70, why is the silence so loud?While I personally do not need a tangible and obvious manifestation of God’s presence, many believers do. So it becomes difficult for God’s spiritual or invisible presence to be manifested in people’s lives. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. When the world experiences disasters for example, many "experts" come out of the woodwork claiming not only that God is not here, but that God’s absence from the world is the cause of these disasters.
When hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Pat Robertson claimed that God sent the hurricane to put a stop to the evils taking place in New Orleans. Robertson made many other outlandish claims and threats. He also threatened the city of Orlando with "earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor" if they continue to fly rainbow flags on city lamp posts on Disney World’s gay day. I could give many examples of these outrageous claims by prominent evangelical leaders. So if Robertson is wrong in his claims, where is God then? Why is God silent, and how do we reconcile this perceived silence with Preterism?
In the book of 1 Kings, we see some very important events developing. In chapter 17, a man named Elijah who was a prophet, predicts draught and famine for the idolatrous people of Israel. The antithesis of the story is important: God dispatches Elijah to tell Ahab to stop worshiping idols; and Elijah offers a demonstration of God’s power and might: an instant "fire of the Lord" toasting the sacrifice which Baal’s prophets failed to ignite. Elijah’s prayer is especially powerful: "O LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again." (1 Kings 18:36-37)
It seems to me that the purpose of Elijah’s prayer was to manifest "the Lord was God" and to turn the heart of Israel back again. And his prayer was answered because "When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God." (Verse 39)
What is even more fascinating is what happens after Baal’s prophets were killed by Elijah. Ahab takes off in his chariot and tells Jezebel what Elijah has done. Jezebel swears to kill Elijah in response, and Elijah runs away in fear.
To me, the point of the account is not as much about how God delivers his people from trouble; we all know God does help us when we ask and that he is our help and comfort in time of trouble. The story does have a higher meaning in my opinion. In his attempt to save his own life from Jezebel, Elijah’s heart is drenched in despair and fear. He even asks God to kill him: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers." (1 Kings 19:4)
Hiding in the wilderness, Elijah slept under a juniper tree. He brought no food and provisions with him, but the angel of God miraculously provided food for him for the long journey to Horeb, the mountain of God, a journey which took forty days and forty nights. When we juxtapose the length of his trip to God’s mountain, and the whole series of events with the first century transition period (A.D. 30 to A.D. 70), we see a striking coincidence. The Church of Christ, received the Holy Spirit to equip her with what was necessary for the forty-year trip to the New Jerusalem, the city of God. This also parallels the forty-year trip made by Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land, guided by the pillar of smoke and fed miraculously by God.
We do not know what Elijah was expecting to find when he arrived at Horeb. Perhaps Elijah was expecting the same fire and power Elijah’s unusual request tells us that he was perhaps disappointed: "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." (1 Kings 19:10).
It almost seems like God is putting Elijah to a test, instructing him to stand on the mountain, being presented with several manifestations of nature. First, there is a strong wind coming, so strong that the rocks of the mountain were breaking apart. But God was not in the strong wind. Next, an earthquake takes place, but God was not in the earthquake. After that, a fire, but God was not in the fire either. Lastly, Elijah hears the sound of a gentle breeze and recognizes God’s presence in it. Only then God asks him "What are you doing here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:13) God was not in the storm, the earthquake or the fire. God was in the silence! In fact, Elijah's recognition of that fact prompted God to speak with him!
This is a powerful and not-so-random lesson to those of us willing to turn every rock looking for evidence of God’s presence. While we should recognize the need for tangible evidences, we should always be aware of what God is; or better said how God is. There was a time of wonders and marvels happening through the Holy Spirit; there was a time of earthquakes, winds and fires that destroyed Jerusalem in the first century. Subsequently there is a time of peace and silence and comfort in the post-A.D. 70 world. Silence comforted Elijah. Silence comforts everyone coming out of strong storms, earthquakes and fires.
Perhaps the problem is not with God’s presence being too inconspicuous. Perhaps the problem is with us failing to see God in the silence.