Throughout the Scripture, we see that God is communicative; he speaks to people. Though he is the transcendent “Holy, holy, holy,” he is also the immanent “God with us.” God stoops down to speak to his creation and does so with words.
In evangelicalism today, many believe that God speaks inaudibly to our hearts. However, though God is sovereign over the heart and guides it the way he wishes, we must not confuse this with God’s spoken word. God’s providential dealings in the heart differ from God’s revelatory words.
One phrase often used in conjunction with the idea of God revealing truth through our hearts is the idea of the “still small voice.” But does the phrase “still small voice” refer to God speaking through the heart?
This phrase, translated as “the sound of a low whisper” in the ESV, comes from 1 Kings 19, where we read:
11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke 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. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:1 ESV)
In the previous chapter, Elijah stood off against the prophets of Baal, and Yahweh showed himself victorious. After this great victory, Elijah ran away in fear of the wicked Queen Jezebel and eventually hides out in a cave. From there, God tells him to “go out and stand on the mount before the LORD”. Wind, earthquake, and fire all pass by, but Yahweh is not in them. Instead of being in these, God’s voice is found in “the sound of a low whisper.” This whisper is audible as it is something Elijah hears. When he steps out to the cave entrance, he hears a voice, God’s voice, speaking in words. Notice that there is nowhere in this passage that indicates that God spoke to Elijah’s heart. Instead, the “still small voice” is audible and outside of Elijah.
What does this mean for us? While God does work in the heart, changing our desires, he does not speak there. God’s revelatory voice communicates with understandable human language, not ambiguous human feelings. As such, if we want to hear the voice of God today, we should look to his Word and not to our hearts. In his Word, we will find that God’s revelatory voice is complete and sufficient for all of life.
Stephen Duarte (ME, National University; working on MTS, Reformed Baptist Seminary) is a pastor at Parkside Bible Fellowship in Fallon, NV. He is husband to Debbie and father of three.
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