August 13, 2017

The Natural 

Tye First Reading at Mass this weekend was the famous story of Elijah finding God not in the wind or fire or storm but the whispering voice

I've long interpreted it, rightly or wrongly, as saying that God prefers not to draw undue attention to himself by the gaudy means of miracles.  

It's a very '70s thing to minimize miracles, like how Jesus feeding the five thousand was said to be not a true miracle but simply people sharing what they had in their cloak (man, they came prepared! Like early preppers!) 

This is the sense of the meaning in the Didache Study Bible notes:

"It was a sign of things to come in which God's Word and inspiration would largely come through less spectacular means and eventually through Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God made flesh."

Our pastor mentioned this is his favorite passage of the Old Testament; it's never been mine simply because I've read it as a buzzkill, an pseudo-announcement of the limiting of the supernatural. "But Momma, that's where the fun is" to quote Springsteen. Or so I thought, having a too transcendent view of God. 

It sometimes seems the hardest part of Christianity is accepting God's use of the unspectacular "natural" means to effect his will. (Of course God whispering, as he does in this pasage, is itself a miracle.)  But even flashy miracles, like the Eucharist, are effected via the natural means of a priest and bread and wine.

There are other interpretations. From Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture:

"[God's] presence was felt only in the quiet of a gentle breeze, because his being is peace, his attributes wise counsel and calm constancy. As the zephyr contrasts with the hurricane, so the peaceful manifestation with the tempestuous zeal of Elias."

From St. Ephrem:

"This was the purpose of such a revelation: the Lord wanted to instruct the prophet through various figures in order to correct his excessive zeal and to lead him to imitate, according to righteousness, the providence of the most High who regulates the judgments of his justice through the abundant mercy of his grace

From Harpers bible commentary:

"Many scholars interpret this account as a deliberate rejection of the storm theophany in Yahwism because of its special associations with the Canaanite rain god Baal. The rejection comes at a time when Israel is divided between the worship of Baal and Yahweh, and the danger of syncretism is great. It is clear, in any case, that according to the prophetic point of view from which the Elijah story is told, this incident represents a transition from the spectacular theophanies witnessed by early Israel to the quiet transmission of the divine word to the prophets."

Catholic study bible:

"Though various phenomena, such as wind, storms, earthquakes, fire, accompany the divine presence, they do not constitute the presence itself which, like the “silent sound,” is mysterious and ultimately ungraspable."

Matthew Henry:

"The wind, and earthquake, and fire, did not make him cover his face, but the still voice did. Gracious souls are more affected by the tender mercies of the Lord, than by his terrors. The mild voice of Him who speaks from the cross, or the mercy-seat, is accompanied with peculiar power in taking possession of the heart."

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