As limited beings, we think of God in very limited terms, limited by our capacity for understanding and the degree of revelation that we have been granted by Him.
A fascinating perspective on just how vast and multi-faceted the true God really is comes from a study of the references to the voice of God in the Bible.
A commonly known passage on this subject comes from the life of Elijah.
“Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
The Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”” – 1 Kings 19:9-18, NASB
The context appears to be that Elijah thinks that he’s alone and that his life is in danger. In response, the Lord tells him that He has 7000 in Israel that “have not bowed to Baal.” Interestingly, part of God’s answer to Elijah is to provide an exhibit of what He sounds like. He was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the sound of a “gentle blowing.” It’s admittedly conjecture, but I noticed that the correspondence between the ways God was not speaking aligns with the classic elements of nature, earth (earthquake), air (strong wind) and fire. As for the fourth classic element, water, Elijah had just left Carmel, where the Lord had brought a great rain from the sea beginning with a “cloud as small as a man’s hand.” Again, I see this as conjecture, but this display of the elements may mean that God is saying that His voice is not to be found in the activities and events of the world (the stuff the world is made from), but in something outside of it, something gentle and easily ignored.
If that’s the case, God may have been telling Elijah that his fear and disillusionment came from looking in the wrong place for evidence of His work.
Compare this to Psalms 29, which I quote fully for context:
“ Ascribe to the Lord, O sons of the mighty,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name;
Worship the Lord in holy array.
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters;
The God of glory thunders,
The Lord is over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful,
The voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
Yes, the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
And Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord hews out flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer to calve
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everything says, “Glory!”
The Lord sat as King at the flood;
Yes, the Lord sits as King forever.
The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace.” – Psalms 29:1-11, NASB
Here we find that the voice of God can be many things: upon the waters, thundering, powerful, majestic, breaking the cedars of Lebanon. His voice “hews out flames of fire” (or as the NIV translates “strikes with bolts of lightning”), shakes the wilderness, “makes the deer to calve” (writhe in labor), and strips the forests bare. This is far from a gentle whisper. It is the voice that shakes the foundations of creation in every way, that cannot be denied, that will bring to pass what it declares.
So, on the one hand, God tells Elijah that He’s to be found in a small whisper, not an earthquake or a fire. Yet, the psalmist sings that His voice thunders and hews out flames of fire. Clearly, the voice of the Lord is many things, and is to be discerned in the terms He sets in His dealings with us.
“And in His temple everything says, “Glory!””