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June 22, 2001
1 Kings 19:1-15a
I Kings recounts the story of Jezebel’s attempt to kill Elijah, and his escape to the cave where God appears to him not in the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire, but in the “still small voice.” Psalm 42 echoes Elijah’s despair in the cave, for it is the great psalm of lament: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” The Galatians passage continues with the theme of the second chapter with its glorious pronouncement that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but we are all one in Christ. And Luke 8 recounts the cure of the Gerasene demoniac.
Always, the texts present a richer plate than one can consume at one sitting, but no process person can really resist the temptation to preach on the Elijah passage, particularly so soon after Pentecost. In Acts 2, the coming of the Spirit is preceded with a “violent” wind, and with “tongues of fire.” Too often we associate the Spirit and power of God with these awesome effects, but the Elijah text should give us pause. There, too, God’s coming is preceded with not only wind and fire, but an earthquake, as well, But God is not in these things.
Too often we associate the mighty power of God with violent natural phenomena, even calling them “acts of God” in our insurance policies! But as the insurance image suggests, these phenomena are destructive. Tornados that destroy towns are indeed “violent winds”—but is God best typified by this destruction? An arsonist can burn down a church. Is this God-like power? An earthquake not only flattens buildings, it can bring down mountains of mud burying whole villages. Does God stifle the life out of us? Are these things the epitome of divine power! Acts 2 and I Kings 19:12 tell a different story. In the Elijah story, the power of God is the “still small voice.” In Acts 2, the power of God is in the ability to communicate across a multitude of cultural and linguistic differences. For Elijah, the voice then guides Elijah toward his next actions; in Acts, the many voices share the mighty deeds of God culminating in the power of resurrection.
In a process perspective, God touches us according to our need, giving possibilities fit for our situation, empowering us to move in appropriate directions. The power of God is for the most part a quiet power—and through this quiet power, we experience the persuasive providence of God toward the communal good.
Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki is Professor Emerita, Claremont School of Theology, co-director of Process Studies, and the author of several books, including Divinity and Diversity, God Christ Church, and In God's Presence. She is the director of the annual Whitehead International Film Festival, held in Mudd Theatre during Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend and also teaches a Faith & Film class during this event.