Celebrated film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg asked, “What does God sound like?” I was in Hollywood at the production headquarters of DreamWorks. Twenty other evangelical pastors and I had been invited to preview the film The Prince of Egypt and offer our feedback. I felt a little out of place as the youngest pastor there, and in the company of nationally known church leaders. They invited me as a representative of the “younger generation.”
The project was impressive. The film told the story of the life of Moses and his journey from slave to liberator of Israel. It took one million individual drawings to make the eighty-eight-minute animated feature. The film went on to gross $218 million worldwide in theaters. Behind the scenes, two hundred theologians and religious workers were brought to Hollywood to offer their opinions of Moses and the story being told.
From his seat in the DreamWorks conference room, Katzenberg described the team’s most difficult task in creating the epic film. “We had a hard time knowing how to record the voice of God in the burning bush scene,” he explained. “We considered the thunder voice approach and the deep baritone, ‘James Earl Jones’ style, but in the end none of those seem to fit.” He paused. “Then we had an idea. We took the voices of a hundred different people—men, women, and children—and recorded them into one single voice track.”
“When we refuse to respond to His voice, God sometimes uses other means to move us along.”
God’s lines were spoken by all the film’s lead actors together. Sound engineer Lon Bender directed the actors to whisper the lines, so that none would dominate the performance. He and his team then took the voice of Val Kilmer, who played the voice of Moses, and made his voice louder than the others. As a result, Kilmer gave voice to both Moses and God suggesting that often we hear God speak to us in our own voice.
The concept of more than a hundred different voices making up the voice of God actually had a prophetic ring to it. Not because God has a hundred different voices but because He has spoken in hundreds of different ways to His people through various means and people.
I guess a lot of people, besides film producers in Hollywood have asked themselves the same question over the course of history, “What does God sound like?” from deep spiritual thinkers with grey beards and wrinkled brows to little round-faced children in Sunday school classes.
Of course we can never know, this side of heaven, what God’s voice sounds like exactly. But Scripture tells us clearly that God does speak to us. He has spoken through the prophets and through His Word, and most perfectly through His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1–2). The question, then, is not whether God speaks but whether we hear Him when He speaks. If we ever hope to leave our cave, we must learn to recognize the voice of God when He speaks to us.
We cannot hear God’s voice clearly or experience His presence personally until we step out of the insulation of our cave. The first question God asked Elijah was, “What are you doing here?” But the first action God asked Elijah to take was “Go out.” God called Elijah to step out from the depths of the cave to a place where he could experience the full impact of His presence: “The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by’” (1 Kings 19:11).
Sometimes we need to reposition ourselves to hear God’s voice clearly. Just the other day I was on my cellphone talking with my wife, Dee, when her voice became choppy. I had to walk outside the building to find better reception. If I had stayed deep inside the building, my wife’s voice would have continued to be unclear. I had to reposition myself before I could hear her clearly again. God was calling Elijah to reposition himself.
Elijah was instructed to prepare for God’s presence by stepping out of the cave and positioning himself for an encounter. The cave represents the dark place where fear-filled thoughts can dominate and isolation can reign supreme. Stepping toward the entrance of the cave shows a willingness on Elijah’s part to encounter God. James 4:8 tells us, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Scripture invites us to take a step toward God and assures us that, when we do, He will meet us there. God invited Elijah to meet His presence outside the cave. He called him out toward a fresh encounter with the Presence that could transform him.
Elijah responded with silence. He didn’t move a single muscle. Based on his lack of response, you might think Elijah did not hear God. But that was not the case. Elijah heard the voice of God, but he was slow to act in obedience. I suspect that Elijah moved slowly because there were other voices in his head competing with the voice of God, and he was still deciding which voice to listen to.
So God decided to make some noise. If Elijah would not come when God asked, God was willing to cause a scene. “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” (1 Kings 19:11–12).
When Elijah refused to move, God sent the equivalent of a tornado past the entrance of the cave. No doubt Elijah could hear the howling of wind and shattering of rocks on the surface of the mountain. As soon as the wind quieted down, the earth began trembling. Elijah could hear the sound of stones falling and the earth moaning as an earthquake violently shook the mountain. When God moves, He cannot be ignored for long.
Can you imagine what it feels like to be in a cave when an earthquake hits?
Beneath the sandstone-capped ridges of Mammoth Cave National Park lies the most extensive cave system on earth, with over four hundred miles of passageways mapped and surveyed. These caves lie 150 miles from the New Madrid Fault, a major earthquake fault line along the Mississippi River. In 1812 the region was shaken by an earthquake that is estimated to have registered 8.7 on the Richter scale. Some miners were working in the caves at the time. One of the miners caught in the cave during the earthquake said, “About five minutes before the shock a heavy rumbling noise was heard coming out of the cave like a mighty gust of wind; when that ceased, the rocks cracked, and all appeared to be going in a moment of final destruction.”
“Sometimes in the darkness of our cave we need to be awakened by the dramatic sound of God before we can position ourselves for His presence.”
I imagine Elijah must have experienced the same effects. He probably started scurrying toward the mouth of the cave as soon as the earth started rumbling. His lethargy quickly turned to an adrenaline rush and his heart must have pounded as dust filled the cave. God had gotten his attention. There is no way that Elijah could continue to ignore the sound of God. When the earthquake stopped, while Elijah was in view of the opening of the cave, God sent fire. The passage makes it sound as if this was not a slow-burning forest fire, but rather a fiery burst that lightened the sky and sent a flash of heat through the entrance to the cave.
Why the wind, earthquake, and fire? Why the divine theatrics? This dramatic display of power and supernatural fireworks was aimed at moving Elijah from the belly of the cave to the entrance. This was God’s way of repositioning Elijah for an encounter with His manifest presence.
When we refuse to respond to His voice, God sometimes uses other means to move us along. Jonah refused to go to Nineveh, so God sent a storm and a man-swallowing fish. The population of earth refused to listen in Noah’s day, so God sent the flood. Pharaoh refused to listen, so God sent the plagues. Humanity refused to believe so God sent His Son.
Sometimes in the darkness of our cave we need to be awakened by the dramatic sound of God before we can position ourselves for His presence. Scripture makes a point of highlighting the fact that God’s presence was not in the earthquake, whirlwind, or fire. “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” (1 Kings 19:11–12 italics added).
by Mark Jobe
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