One of my favourite moments in the Bible is the little, anticlimactic story after one of the big show-stopping stories. It comes in 1 Kings 19, immediately after Elijah has triumphed over all the false prophets of Baal and the land-grabbing wicked King Ahab. God has shown up in an undeniable way to give Elijah the victory that day. It should be anyone’s career highlight. Yet Elijah, hearing that the king’s wife is still out to get him, sets out on an endurance sprint to escape and at the end of it all collapses in despair in the desert.
What do I love about this story? First, I love its humanity. It’s why I love the book of Jonah too. I recognise myself so easily in these pages. I, like Elijah, am a massive idealist. Like Elijah, I push myself to my limit. And a two-decade battle with depression has also meant that, like Elijah, I am easily defeated, prone to despair.
But more than this I love what comes next. God shows up, first as an angel that tells Elijah to eat, drink and sleep. He does this twice. Then He sends a series of dramatic natural events: a violent wind, an earthquake, a fire, and yet in all of these events we are told that God, though sending them, was not “in them”. They were not Him speaking. When He does speak, it’s in “the sound of a low whisper”. Some translations call it the “still small voice”. And then, in that low whisper, God gets Elijah’s attention and shows him the way forward.
I am drawn back to that story today for a few reasons. The obvious one most Australians will recognise. This morning my city experienced the shock of an earthquake registering 6 points on the Richter scale, with its epicentre in the mountains north-east of me. It was dramatic but relatively minor, nothing of the scale that many places around the world have to deal with often, simply unusual for Australia which lies safely within its own continental plate. But yes, an earthquake got me thinking. Specifically it made me think, How does God get my attention? It struck me quite quickly how many in my city, stuck in the morass of our sixth lockdown and the growing reality of what this delta strain of Covid means for us, welcomed the earthquake as a diversion. I certainly did. But others, understandably, were frightened. Others wondered, what next?
Which brings me to my second reason why I’m telling this story today. Because, while the earthquake itself did not make me feel like this, I know well that feeling of “what next?” and am often there when I feel that I’ve had one too many things go wrong. Today it wasn’t the earthquake that made me feel like this but some complaints about work I had given much effort to that tipped me quickly into a place of feeling that I couldn’t do any more. It was so easy to slip into that place, so easy to feel that I had no choice but despair.
And yet there was a moment in the day when I felt that God spoke quietly yet clearly and I want to return to that moment. I was walking my boys to the park at the end of the afternoon and, as often happens, they grew tired and distracted, occupied with digging in the dirt and finding treasures of sticks and leaves. So I gave in and decided that some nature play was more important than getting to the park. I pulled the pram off to the side of the path and I let the boys crawl and discover instead. And as I stood there, I looked around me, listened to leaves and wattle-birds, briefly lowered my mask so I could breathe in wattle and eucalypt, and God was so clearly present, the author and perfecter of this scene, the one who carved each groove in the trees’ skin, the one who taught wattle-birds to dance and sing, that I heard my spirit say, “How much more will He care for you?”
It was simple. The ground did not shake. I still grew deflated by evening. My mind played suddenly and unexpectedly in the darkness. But then I sat with Elijah, and told you his story, and I can now repeat what my spirit heard this afternoon. I ask it to myself. I ask it to you. If He so clothes the wattle-birds and the eucalypts, how much more will He care for you?