Listening to the ‘Gentle Whisper’

Text: 1 Kings 19: 11- 13


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.


Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”




One of my all-time favorite movies is ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ Based on the true story of John Nash, a genius in every respect shows the depth of human vulnerabilities. He is credited for the thesis on the dynamics of human conflict which eventually revolutionized economic theory that helped him win the Nobel Prize. When youths decide which college to go, he was working on an economic theory. When one dreams of beginning a career, Nash was already a distinguished professor at M.I.T. But atthe height of his career Nash suffered a psychological break down. He started getting hallucinations. He interrupted a lecture to announce that he was on the cover of Life magazine disguised as the Pope. He claimed that foreign governments were communicating with him through the media, and he turned down a prestigious post at the University of Chicago because he said he was about to be named as ‘Emperor of Antartica.’ In the movie we see that the character hears these voices that exist only in his mind, unconnected to reality. They made him feel important, as if he was the centre of the universe. They made him feel miserable and played on his darkest fears. When he listened to these voices, they destroyed his relationships, distorted his perceptions, made him obsessive, irrational and terrified. These voices slowly led him to death while he was alive. In the times when this illness advanced for Nash, psychiatry did not have enough medicines to deal with a paranoid delusion which is one of the toughest to deal in psychopathology. This is what makes the story of John Nash very incredible. He over time learnt to discern the voices that he heard. He learned to test the voices, to find out which ones were false and which ones were true. He had to learn to not listen to the ones that lead to death. He learned how to defy these voices and resisted to do what they requested. And while he was not completely freed from his illness, he discovered that overtime their hold on his mind could be greatly weakened. The best line of the movie is when Nash describes how in a way his battle is a battle of all of us. “I’m not so different from you” he says to his friend. “We all hear voices. We just have to decide which ones we are going to listen to.”


I think that statement is a starting point for us today. I believe today the air is saturated with voices that we keep hearing. Voices that say “You are important because you have money.” “You are ugly because you are fat.” “You are useless as you have done nothing significant yet.” “You need to prove your worth. Ordinary people like you cannot survive.” “This world is favorable to the young. Old people have no place here.” “Morality has no place in the market. The mantra is to compromise and move forward.” These voices are like the powerful wind, the earthquake and the fire. All three forces that we see in the text in front of us have a very devastating effect. It is powerful and it compels our attention.These voices of spectacular effect drown out all other voices. These voices are everywhere that we go. We cannot escape them. It is common logic that the voices we hear are the voices we replicate. We are not just victims of such voices stated above. We are the perpetuators of the said voices. These voices determine our relationships. These voices determine our understanding of community and family. These voices help us decide who is worthy to be called a human and who is not. It dictates our every part of life. These voices also end up in deciding who we are. We are always at the mercy of outside voices that sets conditions based on our utility. One is judged on the basis of being productive. That is the rule of the market. Let me give you a simple example.We are in the I.P.L. season and all kinds of ads hit us. But one of the most offensive ads is by an online internet portal called Quickr. In this ad we have a presenter who points to a person in cricket outfit with his back facing the camera. The viewers can see on the T-Shirt, the name “Bopara” (or Gibbs in a different setting.Both are cricketers from England and South Africa respectively). The presenter says “This is Bopara ( or Gibbs). In the auction of IPL, no franchise bought him. But had he been a product (like a mobile or a bike), he would have been instantly sold.” Then you have crazy guys going bezerk to buy the mobile named “Bopara”or bike called “Gibbs” on this portal called ‘Quickr’. Another online portal is“OLX” which says “Sab bikta hai”.


The more we believe in such voices the more absurd our life becomes. We become an emotional wreck and competition looks like the only way to survive. It is interesting that the word ‘absurd’ is derived from the Latin word ‘surdus’ which means being deaf. So we are deaf to what? “After the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19: 12b). That gentle whisper was the voice of God. This voice says to us “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29: 11) or like I mentioned in my previous note “This is my Son/ Daughter, the Beloved,[a] with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). But are we listening to such voices or are we turning deaf to it? The word ‘obedient’ has its roots in the Latin word ‘audiere’, which means to listen.Being obedient to God is to listen to his voice that is a gentle whisper. Listening to God is a discipline that we need to cultivate in the midst of the noise that we live in. The identity of Jesus’ followers are those who listen to his voice.“My sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they follow me.” (John 10: 27).


Prayer is that discipline that helps us listen to the gentle whispers of our God. As Henri Nouwen says “The toughest thing to do is, is to pray. Because the moment I remain silent I hear all the voices of the world that make me feel worthless. The silence makes me restless and to overcome it I start to talk to God. But I have to learn to listen to the gentle whispers of my Lord.” There are some voices that lead to death and destruction and some voices that lead to life and eternity. We are called to discern the voice of God that calls us “Beloved.” And when we listen to this voice, we spread this voice around us. We become a blessing to the people we work with and meet.Instead of gossiping, criticizing and spreading negative words, we become a blessing wherever we go. That is our calling and purpose of our life. 


Prayer– Lord you have created me and you have a plan for me. Help me to hear your voice to battle the noise that is around me. Help me to hear your ‘gentle whispers.’ In Jesus name i ask. Amen


Rev. Merin Mathew

Mar Thoma Syrain ImageChurch




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