How can we hear God’s voice more clearly when there is so much noise? In the previous post, we started looking at the story of Elijah when he was on the run for his life. Even though Elijah was well-practised in listening to God, he had great difficulty hearing God clearly when he was in the midst of trauma. It’s a tragic story, and I really feel for him, but it’s also affirming for us.
If even Elijah struggled to hear clearly, we can take comfort when we struggle. Perhaps that’s one of the no doubt many reasons why we have been gifted with his story. I am confident at least that while it was happening God was already conscious of our current situations. Way back then, he knew about us.
As we have already considered, abusers commonly seek to disrupt our capacity to hear God’s voice clearly. But it’s not just our relationship with God they want to interrupt. Abusers win when they interrupt our relationships with safe people. They win when we have trouble knowing our own heart and mind, and when we find it hard to read our environment accurately. Elijah appeared to struggle with each of these areas in his trauma, although I don’t believe the story indicates any of the more intentional tactics abusers use to achieve that goal, such as gaslighting.1
It’s enough that he was terrified and alone, and one can imagine he may have lost friends among the other prophets Jezebel had killed.2
What does God do to help Elijah listen?
Elijah was in despair. Early in his flight he just wanted to die.3 He was exhausted, and by the time he got to the cave at Mount Horeb, he had been on the run for at least 40 days.4 He was terrified of the danger from Ahab and Jezebel, which was real and immediate. He thought he was the only decent person left, which was false.
We’ve already seen that God’s first responses to Elijah in this situation align nicely with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.5 God prioritised sustenance, shelter, and safe company. As the story continues, God does give Elijah meaningful work to do, aligned with his vocation.6 However, we can see him continue to care for Elijah’s more pressing needs and concerns. God treats Elijah like a flesh and blood human being, with physical, social, and emotional needs.
Perhaps Elijah kept talking to God while he was on the run. The Bible is silent about it. Elijah’s destination was Mount Horeb, “the mountain of God”.7 So it seems reasonable he was seeking God in his flight. What we do know is he heard God talk to him after he had reached the safety of the cave, and slept.
It’s in the safety and seclusion of the cave, at “God’s mountain”, that Elijah hears God talk to him, and this first exchange appears to happen inside Elijah’s heart and mind:
What are you doing here Elijah?8
God affirms the accuracy of Elijah’s internal dialogue
Previously we ran a series on the turmoil of abuse. In the maelstrom that can come from the trauma of abuse, how can we hear God’s voice more clearly? It is not easy. What can we do when we have been skilfully, repeatedly, lied to? What if those lies have involved the devious twisting of scripture? It is especially difficult when spiritual abuse has been woven through other forms of abuse by someone adept at the use of scripture.9
Producing self-doubt is a deliberate goal of many abusers. But what does God do with Elijah amid his turmoil and despair? He calls him outside the cave, talks to him in a gentle but audible whisper, and, again in an audible voice, repeats the same words he had already said in Elijah’s heart:
What are you doing here, Elijah?10
God strengthens Elijah’s memories of his trustworthiness
It is difficult to remember things clearly when abusers mess up our internal worlds. There’s a lot of research into the impact of trauma on our memory, and you might find it interesting to check out this infographic from the (American) National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioural Medicine, or this study from the Canadian Department of Justice. (Please note a trigger warning for the Department of Justice paper, which considers the specific impact of sexual trauma.)
But Elijah had just come from an incredible experience of listening to God under great pressure and had seen God send down explosive fire from heaven.11 Right after that, he had again heard God’s voice clearly, continuing to trust his understanding of what God was saying about the breaking of the drought, even though he had to be patient, and may have felt foolish. But his patience and trust were well placed, and God sent heavy rain.12
So when God sent a rock-shattering storm, an earthquake, and fire, it would have reminded Elijah of his own courage and faithfulness, as well as God’s power and goodness.
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.13
So how can we hear God’s voice more clearly? How can we help others?
The clues we get from reflecting on this story so far are the tip of the iceberg. There are many things we can do. But in addition to caring for our physical, social, and emotional wellbeing, we can look for ways to:
- See and care for the whole person, just like God did with Elijah
- Combat self-doubt with accurate information and feedback from trustworthy sources
- Strengthen helpful memories, perhaps by reflection, journalling and diarising, and enlisting trustworthy friends
I keep saying it, but I know this can be an incredibly difficult process for many. Trusting God can be incredibly difficult too, and I believe he understands that. I wish it was easy and quick. Many psalmists express this kind of pain and distress, and many readers might resonate with this:
My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.
In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help.14
We are going to keep working on this. Fair enough we won’t reach perfection, but we can certainly make noticeable progress over time.
Steve WadeIn the maelstrom that can come from the trauma of abuse, how can we hear God’s voice more clearly? Click To Tweet
- The action of tricking or controlling someone by making them believe things that are not true, especially by suggesting that they may be mentally ill. (Cambridge Dictionary)
- 1 Kings 18:4
- 1 Kings 19:3-5
- 1 Kings 19:3, 8
- There is lots of information about Maslow’s Hierarchy on the web, and you can find the Wikipedia article here.
- Which would align with higher-order needs according to Maslow
- 1 Kings 19:8
- 1 Kings 19:9
- Although I am deliberately not describing such a person as someone who “knows the Bible well”.
- 1 Kings 19:13
- In the story of God burning up the waterlogged sacrifice: 1 Kings 18:16-40
- 1 Kings 18:41-46
- 1 Kings 19:11-13
- Psalm 31:10,22