December 12, 2012

The Whisper Behind the Thunder


It was an earsplitting, earthshaking explosion that jarred me out of my sleep. What in the world is going on? I didn’t have to wait long to find out, because almost immediately a blinding white light flickered all around, followed by another tremendous crash. I realized the weekend camping trip my friend Corey and I had set out on had just become a light-and-sound show. As I lay there, slightly concerned, I hoped we wouldn’t become part of the special effects!

Stormy Night
We had hiked out to a set of small lakes in the northern Sierra Nevadas, and while the clouds had hung dark and threatening the day we arrived, things had pretty much cleared up overnight. The next evening the sun had set in a perfectly clear sky, and millions of stars were shining brightly overhead as we drifted off to sleep. The only thing that had changed was the breeze. I noticed that the campfire smoke, which had been curling lazily upward earlier on, had shifted direction and was now blowing toward the tent. That was the only forewarning of the exciting weather to come.

Now, at 4:00 a.m., we were in the midst of a spectacular thunderstorm. I was glad we weren’t up on some high mountain, but nonetheless I couldn’t help wondering if the tree a few feet away from our tent might get hit. Those bolts were coming pretty close, judging by the very short gap between flash and bang! 

2012 1534 page20Corey and I lay there in our sleeping bags, with nothing else to do except watch and listen. Eventually the storm moved farther on, after depositing a good amount of small hail on our now-soaked tent. Before drifting off into an uneasy sleep, I told Corey what I wanted to do.

“As soon as it gets light and this last wave of thunder is past, let’s just pack up and leave. No hanging around waiting to get hit while hiking out!” I had experienced enough of nature for the time being. We were back at the truck in record time.

That experience helped me develop a healthy respect for thunderstorms. Even though we weren’t in a particularly dangerous position, it’s not the most secure feeling to be camping in the middle of a thunderstorm. Just the sheer magnitude of power—which, unfortunately directed, could put you a few heartbeats closer to the resurrection—is enough to make you realize how small and helpless you really are when the forces of nature are at work.

Storm on Mount Sinai
I wonder what it must have been like for the Israelites, encamped at Mount Sinai, when they went out to witness one of the greatest spectacles of the ages: God coming down to deliver His law. The sight was awesome, with a thick dark cloud enveloping the mountain and flashes of lightning flaring out of the smoke. But it was not just a sight to behold—it was also an audial experience. Accompanying the lightning were peals of crashing thunder, and above it all was the sound of a trumpet, growing “louder and louder” (Ex. 19:19, KJV). 

It’s not hard to guess what each Israelite was feeling, because even Moses at this point was saying “I exceedingly fear and quake”! (Heb. 12:21, KJV). God was revealing just a little part of His grandeur as He prepared to communicate the great principles of His kingdom as set forth in the timeless Ten Commandments. 

How would you have reacted if you had been there that day? Would you have heartily agreed with the earnest request made to Moses: “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Ex. 20:19, KJV)? I can speak only for myself, but after that thunderstorm I can only imagine how intimidated I would be hearing the voice of God booming from a mountaintop!

Whispering God
Isn’t it amazing that the very same God, for all His infinite power and grandeur, chooses to speak to us, not by thundering tones, but in a still small voice! How easy it would be for the Lord to jolt us into submission each time we were doing something wrong; but instead He softly speaks to us in the back of our minds. And how often we choose to ignore that impression.

I’m sure we’ve all had the same question at some time—why does God use such a quiet, almost subdued form of conviction? Perhaps we should ask a second question: What was the aftermath of Israel’s encounter at Sinai? One only needs to look a few weeks down the story to find them worshipping a golden calf. It all has to do with the kind of response He knows He will get. Most of the time a big earth-moving experience produces little more than a trembling, temporary acknowledgment of God’s rightness. Though it was fitting and necessary for God to make an impressive demonstration while publicly delivering His law for the first time, the noise and thunderings didn’t convert Israel.

Ellen White tells us that “it is the still, small voice of the Spirit of God that has power to change the heart.”1 This is why God chooses to whisper rather than thunder in our everyday lives. There is something tremendously powerful in the quiet conviction He employs. When we learn to love and recognize that voice, we can find ourselves living the experience of an individual who found himself encountering God on this same mountain. As tempest, earthquake, and fire gave way to the still small voice, Elijah came out of his cave, face wrapped in mantle, to meet with his God. After all the dread and fear, it was with a humble, submissive spirit that he waited as God spoke to his soul. 

There is a day coming when you and I will see God appear in His full glory, and we will hear Him give a tremendous “shout, with the voice of the archangel” (1 Thess. 4:16, KJV). On that day everyone will recognize the piercing voice that sets the earth reeling and wakes the dead. It is the same voice we have heard all our life, earnestly appealing, quietly pleading.2 On that final day, will that voice send a chill of terror through you, or will it cause you to look up and shout joyfully, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us” (Isa. 25:9, KJV)? Now is the time to start deciding. 

Next time you hear a peal of thunder, stop and praise God for His awesome power that could speak nature into existence. And then praise Him for being the God that is powerful enough to speak—yes, even whisper—and create a new heart within you. 

1 Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1917), p. 169.
2 See Ellen G. White,  The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 642. 

Michael Lombart studies Religion at Weimar College, where he is preparing to be a missionary pilot. This article was published December 13, 2012.