28th October 2022

‘Of biblical proportions.’ This seems to be the latest cliché, certainly among journalists, to describe dramatic events, disasters especially. It’s not enough to call them ‘huge’ or ‘epic’, but ‘of biblical proportions’. Perhaps it’s because floods recall the story of Noah and wildfires resemble the zapping of Sodom and Gomorrah, while earthquakes echo the prophecies of God shaking the heavens and the earth. The universal threat of climate change, too, demands that our language be stretched dramatically.

So, ‘biblical’ is becoming an acceptable word again in public discourse. But the Bible doesn’t talk about God’s activity only as displays of mega-power. In the Bible there’s a quite other way of seeing God at work, but no less dramatically. The prophet Elijah for example (I Kings 19:11-13), having spectacularly won his contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, is told by God to stand at the mouth of the cave where he has fled in fear from the wrath of King Ahab, ‘for the Lord is about to pass by’. A hurricane-force wind sweeps the mountainside sending rocks flying, followed by fire and earthquake. But the Lord is not in any of these. Instead, there is what our translations variously call ‘a still small voice’, ‘a low murmuring sound’ or even ‘a sound of sheer silence’, in which God speaks reassurance and command to Elijah. More impressive than any demonstration of sheer power is the self-restraint of power, seen above all in the crucified Jesus. I look forward to when we shall speak of humility, gentleness, and grace as being of awesomely biblical proportions. That would be revolutionary.

Keith Clements