“Finding God in the Silence”
1 Kings 19: 1 - 12 & Psalm 130
Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ August 12, 2018
She is a very good woman ~ he is a very good man. A good spouse, a model parent, a wonderful neighbour, upstanding in their community; the first to help out when there is a need, and then it happens…the test comes back positive…a tragedy occurs in the family… they find themself holding a pink slip…their marriage comes to an end ~ and that seemingly perfect life begins to be tested. Things begin to fall apart and one wonders ‘where is God for me?’; ‘where is God in my time of need?’; ‘where is God in this crazy, messed up life that once was so perfectly beautiful?’
Elijah’s life was like that. Elijah was one of the great prophets that scripture records; the one through whom the entire prophetic tradition would unfold. Allusions of his life to being like Moses are numerous and when Jesus is transfigured on the Mountain in dazzling light, we see on one side of Jesus ~ Moses ~ and on the other …we see Elijah. Elijah relentlessly worked for God. In the last chapter, we find the powerful story of Elijah defending God’s honour against the other pagan gods. In this epic battle, he pulls out his sword faithfully slaughtering the prophets loyal to Baal thereby revealing the omnipotent power of Yahweh ~ the God of Israel. The problem comes in the following chapter that we read from this morning. Elijah finds a time in his life now when God seems to be silent; God seems to be absent; God seems to be nowhere to be found. Queen Jezebel was a pagan loyalist and becomes infuriated with Elijah for murdering the prophets of her gods and she retaliates by vowing to have Elijah murdered. Elijah goes from being the good and faithful servant of God to now being the one for whom God seems to be absent. Elijah runs for his life and asks for God to take it away. Elijah wants to die.
Sadly, this is not just a biblical story that we can examine as a dusty ancient text. This request to end one’s life is all to real for many of us. Some of very our own families here at Northwood have been touched by these dark times. The World Health Organization reports that 800,000 suicides occur worldwide, and within Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10-24. For Elijah, we can almost sense the feeling of aloneness that he was suffering. He had wandered a day’s journey in the dangerous wilderness and he came and sat under a solitary broom tree. A broom tree is very much like you would imagine from it’s name. It looks like a broom that you might sweep your floor with. It is not lush and green and offers very little protection. Interestingly, broom trees usually grow in groups; however, this particular broom tree had grown by itself in isolation. Elijah felt isolated, alone, by himself ~ and he sat under this lonely little broom tree in his isolation, in his vulnerability and he felt very much alone. For Elijah…God seemed absent…non-existent…silent.
Have you ever been there? Have you known a time when God seemed absent…when God was seemingly non-existent…when God was silent? I think, if we all are honest, we have all experienced this void in our life. But sometimes, when we experience these moments of silence, they can be an opportunity for us to realize where this God might actually fit in. Sometimes, these moments of silence can be moments of faith epiphany when we can further open our spirits to realize where God might actually fit into our journey. Blaise Pascal was a 17th century French mathematician, a physicist, and (also) a Catholic theologian ~ what a combination! He, famously, introduced the concept of a “God-shaped void” that can only be filled by God. He wrote: “there is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man (and woman) which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”.
In the text, Elijah was sent an angel to attend to him. He was provided the comforts of the body ~ food and drink and then sleep. And when he arose, he was given even more food, more drink and then he went on his journey ~ 40 days and 40 nights towards Horeb, the mountain of God. And he journeyed, and he wandered ~ just like Jesus in his 40 days and nights. And in his fear and in his depression, and in his wishes to lose his life …he somehow…he somehow found it. For the ‘God shaped void’ took over and it looked for God. A God that was not to be found in the great wind splitting the mountains and breaking rocks; a God that was not find in the earthquake; a God that was not in the fire. But a good who was found in the sheer divine sound of silence where only God’s voice is heard. The silence where Elijah’s ‘God shaped void’ opened up and he knew God was with him…that he was not alone…even in such a trying time in his life…God was inside him…filling his void. It is that same desire that is sung in the 130th Psalm that Pat read this morning: “out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord hear my voice! … I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in God’s word, I hope”. The Psalmist knows that God is there in the waiting, in the uncertainty, in the silence. This ‘God shaped void’ waits … in the sound of sheer silence…it waits…and it will not be disappointed.
We have entered a very sensitive and complicated area in the human condition. In the case of complicated depression and suicidal thoughts, the medical community is increasingly looking towards the wisdom of spirituality to be a partner in healing these times in people’s lives. While medication plays a significant role in people’s treatment, doctors are now also ‘prescribing’ other treatments to accompany medication. The value of being in nature, being in Creation which has the capacity to fill our ‘God shaped void’ and remind us that we are not alone. Books and articles are now coming out around the value of meditation and prayer ~ ways that the ‘God shaped void’ is truly satiated. Indeed, our body-mind-spirit connection is very strong and in these deeply troubled times, we need to listen deeply to the surprising God who is found in the sound of sheer silence.
What is the sound of ‘sheer silence’? How can God fill our voids there? I think that will be the surprising spiritual gift that only you (and I) can find in our journey in the wilderness when we listen in the silent places and times of your living. As we think on this task, there is a wisdom story that may be a good reminder for us. And so, I will close with this story: a very religious woman found herself caught in rising floodwaters. So she sought higher ground and she climbed onto the roof of her house trusting that God would rescue her. A neighbour came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.” “No thanks” she replied. “I’ve prayed to God, I have faith that God will save me”. A short time later the police came by in a boat and the officer shouted: “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.” “No thanks, I’ve prayed to God, I have faith that God will save me” Next, a rescue services helicopter arrived. It let down a rope ladder. “Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.” “No thanks, I’ve prayed to God, I have faith that God will save me” Eventually, the floodwaters continued to rise and the woman drowned. In heaven, the woman asked God: “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you” “Yes my child and I heard all your prayers. I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in”.
I wonder what the sound of sheer silence will sound like in your faith, in your times of need. The one thing of which I am certain is that God will speak ~ speak words to the ‘God shaped void’ in your Spirit. May we have the faith to sit in the silence and listen.