“The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.” Psalm 29
I have wonderfully sincere Christian friends who frequently use language like this: “I wanted to write a book about dependency, but God told me he wanted me to write something else—something about relationships, and when I said, ‘I don’t know much about relationships,’ he told me, ‘I’ll help you. Don’t worry.’”
I have two reactions to such language—no three. First, why doesn’t God speak to me that way? Am I deaf, or doesn’t he really care what I’m up to? Maybe I need to listen in a wholly different way.
The cynic in me wants to know what the voice of the Lord sound like. When I hear good people describe such conversations, I think of George Burns in Oh, God, the 1977 comedy. George Burns as God was God as George Burns, a presence with one great sense of humor; but my friends’ voice of God never seems all that comical.
But then, I can’t helping thinking that it’s more than a little arrogant to make such a claim. You know, does God almighty sits aboard your shoulder like a macaw? How come it’s only you?
Ralph Waldo Emerson left his Unitarian friends in the pews when he decided that the sacrament of communion was idolatry because the sacrament was set in place by a single human being, a Jewish ascetic named Jesus. Christ’s revelation, Emerson argued, was the right one for a carpenter’s son from Galilee; but it meant very little sense for a 19th century New Englander. Revelation from the divine Oneness, Emerson says, “is an intuition. It cannot be received as second hand.” Waldo was a sweet dreamer.
How does God speak to us? There’s another question for the ages. Old Testament Jewish life was littered with prophets cock sure they were getting their proclamations straight from the Source. Some were; the vast majority were dead wrong. Jim Jones, a self-proclaimed spiritual conduit, created mass murder by ascribing his visions to the divine truth. And there are others, of course.
In Psalm 29, David creates a litany with the phrase “the voice of the Lord.” He uses it, refrain-like, six times in a row, each time with specific reference to a natural phenomenon any science teacher could explain away by leaders and streamers and gargantuan electrical current. Did you know that, all around the world, lightning strikes the earth about 100 times per second? I didn’t.
Is lightning really the voice of God? No more than a tornado, a tsunami, a volcano, or an earthquake. Many native people once worshipped the sun, in part because, without electricity, the darkness of night was downright scary. Two weeks ago, we suffered the scariest flood this river in our backyard ever mounted—was that God speaking? And if so, what was he saying?
Is David’s poem just the rambling of a primitive, someone who made spiritual claims for perfectly explainable natural phenomena?
Here’s my theory. One of the reasons God almighty named David as someone closest to his own heart was that the poet/King never stopped communicating, never stopped listening to the still and solemn whispers within him, or the booming thunder on sleepless stormy nights. King David the poet saw God and heard him and spoke himself, intimately, to the eternal eminence he couldn’t fail to recognize every hour of his life.
I should be so good a listener, so reverent a communicator.