God’s still small voice?

Y’might’ve heard this story before.

1 Kings 19.11-13 KWL
11 The LORD said, “Go out. Stand on Mt. Sinai before the LORD’s face.”
Look, the LORD passed by.
A great, strong wind tore away the mountain, breaking rocks before the LORD’s face—
but the LORD wasn’t in the wind.
After the wind, an earthquake. The LORD wasn’t in the quake.
12 After the quake, a fire. The LORD wasn’t in the fire.
After the fire, a voice—a thin whisper.
13 When Elijah heard it, he covered his face with his robe and went out to stand in the cave’s opening.
Look, the voice to him said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

This is the only instance in the bible of a ק֖וֹל דְּמָמָ֥ה דַקָּֽה/qol demamá daqqá, “a voice, a thin whisper,” better known by the way the KJV puts it, “a still small voice.”

The only instance. Nowhere else is the LORD described as talking this way. Usually he’s super obvious, and super loud. Frighteningly loud, and even people who knew and loved him would cower in terror, ’cause God’s louder than the loudest thing the authors of the bible could describe. Usually they’d go with thunder, or “many waters”—multiple waterfalls, or ocean waves, which are the darnedest things to talk over. Rv 19.6

Yet for some reason, the still small voice is how everybody seems to think God talks to people: He’s quiet. A tiny whisper. Something you can barely hear.

I would argue they can barely hear him for other reasons. Not because he’s quiet—or worse, because he’s silent.

“God-impressions”: How people imagine God talks without talking.

I grew up among people who were pretty sure God stopped talking in bible times. Because, their explanation went, we have bibles now: God doesn’t need to talk, for he’s said everything he needed to say within the pages of your bible. Read your bible; that’s the closest you’ll get to God talking to you, ’cause supposedly God figures it’s all we need.

It’s a rubbish idea. Which is why the very same people who think God stopped talking, developed this harebrained idea God now communicates through impressions. And no, I don’t mean the sort of impressions where you’re trying to mimic some celebrity: They think God makes ’em feel something. A little subtle something. Instead of “yes” and “no,” God makes ’em either feel happy or anxious; like they oughta accept their circumstances, or like they oughta question them.

So when they talk about God’s still small voice, they actually have God-impressions in mind. Not an audible whisper; not an internal voice; just an unconscious thought which they’re pretty sure they didn’t psyche themselves into thinking. It just came to them. God must’ve dropped it into their spirits. That’s his “still small voice”—it’s kind of a metaphor for what a God-impression really is.

Again, rubbish. Read that bit of 1 Kings 19 again. In that story, Elijah heard a literal voice which summoned him out of the cave. One which specifically told Elijah, in ancient Hebrew, מַה־לְּךָ֥ פֹ֖ה אֵלִיָּֽהוּ/Ma lekhá po, Elyahu? “What are you doing here, Elijah?” One which Elijah specifically answered. One which carried on a conversation with Elijah.

Nobody ever talks about having a conversation with God-impressions. And those’d be interesting stories, too: “I asked God if I could buy that Lexus, and he gave me a peace in my spirit about it; I asked him which color I should get, and I felt that same peace in my spirit about the candy-apple red, though I did ask him about the silver and the black, and both times I felt a check in my spirit…” I could go on, but it gets stupider.

These are emotions. We’re letting ourselves be led by emotions. And we’re supposed to master our emotions, not let ’em master us. It’s because we’re meant to master our emotions that we can easily manufacture emotions, and make ourselves feel anything we want—and psyche ourselves into believing God made us feel that way. If we feel in any way hesitant about a decision, we conjure up that “check in my spirit,” and credit or blame God for it. But sometimes God’s telling us to resist that hesitancy, and take a leap of faith. To try walking on water a little.

We don’t have conversations with these God-impressions; we take them and run with them. Especially when that “peace in my spirit” jibes exactly with what we really, really want to do. We never follow up with, “Hey God, did you actually give me this idea, or am I just giving you credit for my wishes?” After all… it might not be God, and we really want that Lexus. Or whatever else we’ve coveted, and are hoping God will grant us just this once.

Okay yes, the Holy Spirit drops impressions into people all the time. Little nudges in one direction or another. Thing is, so do devils. And let’s not forget about being led astray by our own hearts. So… which of these impressions come from God, and which don’t? It needs to be sorted out. But like I said, if we want it bad enough, we don’t bother to sort out a thing, and go with our desires instead of pursuing God.

I already wrote about how to confirm it’s really God talking. Make sure of every impression before you act on any of ’em. If you don’t… don’t blame God when they come to nothing. Or worse.

And no, impressions aren’t God’s still small voice.

God’s clear voice.

Emotions are a rotten way to deduce God’s will. Yes, if he wants to, the Holy Spirit can manipulate our feelings. Sometimes he does. But that’s not communication. It might open communications with God… but often it closes communications. Whenever the LORD manipulated the feelings of the pharaoh of the Exodus (i.e. “he hardened Pharaoh’s heart” Ex 7.13), it stopped communication. The pharaoh didn’t care to speak to Moses anymore, and wasn’t receptive to anything the LORD wanted.

So with very few exceptions, what “I feel in my spirit” is me. Those checks in your spirit are you, feeling anxious and acting as if God is warning you away from something you don’t feel right about.

And the most obvious sign this isn’t God, is its very vagueness. God doesn’t do vague. He gets specific. Vague has “fake prophet” written all over it.

Whatever God’s voice sounds like to you—loud or small, internal or audible—it’s still what the Holy Spirit is directly, specifically telling you. It’s conscious, obvious communication. It’s purposeful, specific revelation. There should be no doubt in your mind you heard it. There may be doubt as to whether God said it, which is why we still need to confirm it. But there’s none of the doubtful, shaky nature of “impressions” and emotions.

And y’know, in the 1 Kings 19 story it may not even have been a quiet whisper. Remember, when Elijah first heard it, he was in a cave, hiding from the wind and earthquake and fire. Once he came to the cave’s mouth, the LORD’s voice wasn’t described as quiet and whispery anymore. If the LORD decided to manifest his voice somewhere in real space, specifically outside the cave, certainly it’d be harder to hear from inside the cave, right? It was a quiet whisper because it was muffled.

But if the LORD spoke to Elijah with an internal voice, of course Elijah’s fears would get in the way. ’Cause natural disasters were going on outside. Plus political disasters were happening back home in northern Israel, which is why Elijah had fled to Arabia: Queen Jezebel wanted him assassinated. 1Ki 19.2 Our emotions tend to drown out everything else in our minds, including God’s voice. It makes him a lot harder to hear. At the same time it also makes him the clearest thing in all the turbulence. Once we get hold of ourselves, we should be better able to zero in on him.

So if you’ve heard the LORD’s voice—really him, and aren’t just claiming Christianist baloney is the same thing—you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t heard the LORD’s voice, stop the silly pretense, ’cause it’s getting you nowhere. Start pursuing his actual voice—and brace yourself, ’cause it’s neither still nor small.

Prayer.