Every human being hears ‘voices’ in the journey through life, some loud, some low. Both the loud and the low can be useful, but it appears as it did in the case of Prophet Elijah, the ‘whisper’ turns out to be the better one in critical conditions. So, it should be anyway. Show me one person who will feel good when someone shouts advice at him or her except by reason of distance or noise. Often a soft voice calms passions than a harsh one (see Proverbs 15 verse 1). Last week I wrote on an emotive subject – secret societies. Emotions run deep on this subject and people often take hard-line positions generally based on biases. Reactions to the post were muted but two persons reacted in a ‘soft’ manner which made it easier for me to react in a soft manner too.
The concept of still small voice dates back to the 4th century BC when the book of 1 Kings was written (1st and 2nd Kings are said to have been scripted between 560 and 538 BC). In 1 Kings 19 Elijah tries to manage post-victory developments which instead of making him celebrate, actually implied threat to his ministry and his life. He had roundly defeated King Ahab and his terrible wife, Jezebel when he ordered execution of 450 prophets of Baal sponsored by Ahab and Jezebel. Jezebel sought to kill Elijah to assuage her humiliation. The prophet ran and took refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb in the desert. (My people, when you face existential threat run first. Ogba elders say a man should not be ashamed to run if an elephant pursues him in the forest).
The key issue in the crisis Elijah faced lay in the manner God selected to communicate with His distraught and dejected servant (communication could be verbal or by sign). First, God spoke through wind, likely what now bears the name ‘Carmel’ winds which move at about 50 kilometres per hour. But God was not in the wind.
Second, God spoke through earthquake. Even minor quakes can shake people to their foundations. The scale of destruction caused by earthquakes makes it a scourge. But God was not in the earthquake.
Third, God spoke through fire. Thousands of hectares and billions of dollars can disappear in few hours of a blaze. But God was not in the fire.
When God’s voice arrived, Elijah showed up at the cave’s entrance to listen and react. Yet, God did not shout. He whispered. God can speak even through thunder and whirlwind as in Psalm 77 verse 18 or other means. Today we don’t hear God’s voice live but we hear through His servants and through His word (See Gotquestions Ministry.com). Humans should prefer God’s whisper, not a quake or fire or strong wind.
The still small voice is usually a whisper and has been there since antiquity. The man regarded as the father of philosophy – Socrates of Greece – was noted for effective use of the still small voice. Seen as communication from daemon (god) the voice never told Socrates what to do. It only intervened in his activities by indicating what he should NOT do. On one occasion on return from war the warriors stopped at a junction. Socrates told his fellow soldiers the voice in him indicated they should NOT take a short and safer route back to Athens. The tired soldiers disagreed and went on the short and safe route. Socrates was the only person who arrived in Athens. The others were waylaid and killed.
Fast forward to the present. We have the indwelling spirit which whispers to us. Three things: first, the capacity to hear the still small voice which comes as a whisper; second, the capacity to understand (described as decoding in communication); and third, the capacity to implement or obey the voice. These three Cs or capacities are critical success factors for the effectiveness of the encounter known as still small voice (SSV). The factors are neither mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive. The three must take place in sequence for the experience to be useful or to achieve its purpose. Elijah heard, understood, and obeyed and lived to continue his exploits.
So, people, we need to have the grace to receive the still small voice, decode and understand or interpret, and be able to carry out the divine directive.
A personal case study. Once upon a time when I went through my journey in the wilderness my wife told me she had prepared one of our children to leave for the boarding house. I said to God I think you have gone too far. I had zoned children education to myself. I had reason to believe my wife would go further by using her salary to pay the child’s fees. The still small voice asked me a question as I sat still to listen. “Whose son is this?” I refused to answer and the voice, as usual, faded away. The child left for school next day and I went out to borrow to pay his fees few days later.
Meanwhile on my way to the school I boarded a car at the bus station (garage). Twice the driver said to some people at the bus station, “When I return” and twice a voice within me said, “Who told him he will return?” I said a prayer and we left. On the narrow road at the time between Uyo and Abak the car hit a boy on a bicycle. The driver got out, fished the child from the bush, cradled him, and mounted a motorbike to take him to Sanni Abacha Specialist Hospital as it was then called. I am certain he did not return to the bus station that day. Which voice spoke to me?
At this juncture we should consider the place of science in matters of a transcendental nature. Is there anything scientific about a still small voice? Should it be respected always? How can one establish its authenticity in the face of competing ‘voices’ or opinions?
I submit that the still small voice is a cosmic whisper, but it should not be considered to the total exclusion of reason and analysis. Analysis is a tool of science which often generates precision with the possibility of acts and outcomes being subject to replication. And certainly, replication is a hallmark of science.
In the case of Socrates (as written by Plato in the book, “Apology”) the voice told him not to use the short and safe route. Use of reason and analysis should justify the position of the voice to make it scientific rather than transcendental. Weary warriors are rational human beings so they should opt for a short and safe route to Athens so as to rest as well as unite with their families. Therefore, people with a plan to murder the warriors should expect them – by reason – to use the short and safe route and so lay ambush on the preferred route. The voice of Socrates therefore reasoned that the long but less safe route would in fact be safer. The voice turned out to be correct by a simple process of deduction. Should this not remind us of the biblical argument that the wide and pleasurable road leads to destruction while the narrow and crooked road leads to salvation?
On the first issue in the case study. The answer I refused to give to the still small voice was straightforward and self-evident – the subject needed to be seen as “our” child not “my” child. Both parents have a duty to take care of every child they generate by joint action. The analysis, scientific I think, made me go out to borrow money for the school fees while the child’s mother bought the requirements for hostel and classwork. If one father out there runs a zoning policy maybe, he should have a rethink. Marriage is about joint responsibility in every aspect of the venture.
With respect to the voice at the bus station, I guess it falls into the area known as clairvoyance.
For now, we conclude with advocacy for spiritual appeal by each person for grace to hear and understand the still small voice when we are so blessed, and greater grace to put to practice or obey the message that is in accordance with reason. The average person either by conscious action blocks the voice or puts up a strong argument for an alternative action or for non-action. The voice of consciousness may be transcendental at first thought, but a closer review should reveal rational and analysable issues which can provide justification for the voice. Have a productive and crisis-free May, the fifth month of the year.