Our readings today recount some well-known and quite different God encounters.
Paul is on Mars Hill in Athens, the intellectual center of the universe in his day. He is accused of preaching foreign gods, and his response is to point to the Athenian’s “unknown god.” Paul proclaims that the God unknown by the Greeks can be known as the creator and redeemer of all people. This God encounters us as familiar rather than foreign, from within our particular cultures, whether Jewish or Greek or Canadian “for in him, we live and move and exist” (v 28).
Elijah is on Mount Carmel, one of the “high places” that were being used as centers of worship to foreign gods. Because of this turning away from the Lord, the land is in famine, and King Ahab and Queen Jezebel blame Elijah. The Lord God is determined to win his people back and so sends Elijah to prove that these foreign gods are no gods at all. Altars are built, animals sacrificed, but there is no fire. The God who sends fire is the true God who can also send rain and heal the land and restore the people. The Lord God acts in power, sends the fire and sends the rain. This God encounters us in power, and despite our sin and rebellion offers healing and restoration.
Elijah is on Mount Sinai, where the Lord gave the law to Moses. He is in a cave, hiding and angry that the God who sent fire and rain when he prayed has abandoned him. It is startling to read that immediately after the great demonstration of power on Mount Carmel, Elijah is running for his life and blaming God for his trouble. Yet God sends an angel to care for his needs and to direct him to Sinai. God comes to Elijah, not in the windstorm, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the gentle whisper. This God who commands earth, wind and fire is ready to encounter our need, our despair in the gentle whisper that gives direction and assures us of his love.
This same God who encountered the Athenians in ideas familiar to their culture, the Israelites in famine and need with healing, and Elijah in anger and despair with love is longing to encounter you. In whatever place, time or circumstance, God comes as familiar, in power, offering love.
Husband to Carla, Professor at Ambrose University