Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too!’ The Lord said to him, ‘Go back the way you came. . .’
Okay, now. There are a few things that stand out to me as I read this.
I don’t really know for sure, but I have a few ideas. (Remember that I am no Bible scholar, though.) Horeb (Sinai) was a sacred place to meet God. It’s where Moses met with God. Elijah was running to a place where God’s presence was known to be. Holy ground. While I’m sure God could have given His message anywhere along the way, I think that God knew what He was doing by letting Elijah despair and run in fear and exhaust himself.
I think He wants us to want Him that much, and He knows it’s best for us . . . to realize that He is the only thing we want, that He is the only thing we can truly rely on, and that we want nothing more than to be close to Him, to remain in Him, and to do what He asks us to do.
But the Lord wasn’t in any of that. Sure, He caused them to happen, but He wasn’t talking through them. His presence wasn’t in those events. But after all that wild stuff, His presence passed by … in a whisper.
But after the wind, earthquake, and fire - after sensing God’s presence and hearing His whisper, and being humbled enough to cover his face - Elijah had a chance to answer this same question again.
My guess is that the second time he answered, he answered with a firm faith in God and a deep trust that made him willing to hear the instructions that God would give him.
And only now could he handle hearing “Go back the way you came.” To hear that before - when he was despairing and exhausted - probably would have killed him. And so God didn’t reveal His plans for Elijah before he was ready to hear them. God had mercy on him and only revealed what He knew he could handle.
(I think this tends to happen more to people who use God as a Vending Machine, who only run to Him when they want something or when times are really tough and they want to be free from the trials and pain. They do not have a proper understanding of who He is, His love and justice and sovereignty and holiness, etc. Instead, they keep Him in a little box and take Him out when they want something from Him. But God is not a genie in a bottle. And He does not fit into any box we make.)
Yes, sometimes there is a lesson to learn or He does want us to do something differently. But we need to remember that trials and pain often happen because we live in a fallen world where people affect other people and where Satan wreaks havoc. Sometimes, there is not some great Master Plan behind the trials or the pain that has happened to us. God might not have “caused” it to teach us a lesson. But He did allow it to happen to us, because He knows how it can be used for good (and because I think because He allows humans to make many choices and He has chosen to stay “uninvolved” to a certain degree, in deference to the free-will He has granted us).
But we have a choice about how to respond to whatever happens. We can choose to let it grow our character and relationship with God and faith and perseverance and to be obedient no matter what, or we can choose to get bitter and harden our heart and turn away from Him.
Every trial, every “unanswered prayer,” is an opportunity for growth and character/faith development, whether God has caused it for a reason or whether it’s something that just happened as a result of living in a fallen world with fallen people.
And we need to trust Him when He says “No” to our prayers. His “no” doesn’t necessarily mean that He’s punishing us or angry with us. Usually, His “no” is because He knows it’s not best for us and because He knows how He can use it to grow our character and faith or to help other people or to accomplish His plans.
Whether we have hard times or easy times, whether He says “Yes” or “No,” whether He has caused it or just allowed it, we always have the choice of how to respond to it, letting it grow us and draw us nearer to the Lord or letting it hurt our faith and pull us away from Him.]