Silence of God
I woke up this morning and listened, listened for a familiar voice. All I heard was silence. I could hear the chatter of voices in the kitchen, the running water in the shower and the drone of the morning news coming from the radio but the voice I was listening for was still absent. Would I every hear that voice again? Where is God?
Every morning for months, I listened and waited for His voice in response to my cries. My pain has been almost unbearable. Enemies lies and betrayal by “friends” have cost me my job, forced a move from one side of the country to the other, and left my future in doubt. No voice, no message from God, nothing but silence, a devastating, deafening silence. In the face of injustice, why has God not vindicated me by His immediate outpouring of judgment setting right the wrongs? His silence has left me feeling so desolate and helpless. I find myself crying with David, “Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.” [i]
The questions down deep in my heart go beyond the issue of God’s silence. I find myself questioning God himself. Because of my distress and difficulty, I am able to understand Sir Robert Anderson when he wrote about the Armenian massacres of 1895. He said, “But has Almighty God no power to check such crimes…but in vain do we strain our ears to hear some voice from the throne of the Divine Majesty. The far-off heaven where, in perfect peace and unutterable glory, God dwells and reigns, is SILENT!” Anderson went on to say, “His people have died, with faces turned to heaven, and hearts upraised in prayer to God; but the heaven has seemed as hard as brass, and the God of their prayers as powerless as themselves or as callous as their persecutors!” [ii]
Is God really powerless or callous about my difficulties? No! When I learned to listen to the silence of God, I learned some very important lessons. God’s silence is both powerful and purposeful? In His silence, God is very articulate. Like Job, my response to God’s silence has been to complain, “Behold, I cry out of wrong, but I am not heard: I cry aloud, but there is no judgment.” [iii] Knowing when to pray and when to be silent is all about trusting God. I fear my constant chattering in the presence of God betrays my diminishing faith in Him and His willingness to communicate with me.
Why am I unable to hear my heavenly Father’s voice? Is it because I am not listening? Are my difficulties a source of distraction? Could it be my heavenly Father is trying to deal with other more pressing issues and needs in my life? Was Job expecting a different answer God so that the answer he received was like the voice of silence?
Job’s statements reflected the condition of his heart. First, we hear doubt. “I am not heard.” Secondly, we hear the presence of fear in his voice, “There is no judgment.” Job felt God did not care about his situation. Feeling that God doesn’t care makes us deaf to both His voice and His articulate silence.
Silence is awkward and aggravating. I would rather talk to God. More often than not, my conversations with God are monologues. I talk and God listens. For me, sitting quietly in His presence, or in any one else’s, is a very difficult. When I am able to do so, I begin to hear the voice of God and see His hand at work. During these quiet moments, the Spirit of God brings to life one Scripture passage after another. It’s not new message I need from God but quiet reminders of what He has already said. In these quiet moments, my heavenly Father helps me look beyond my difficulties to gaze at the wonders of his handiwork on my behalf. Suddenly, I realize God is not silent, in fact, I realize how articulate the silence of God is.
Through His articulate silence God, I have heard some very powerful messages. God has designed these messages to be a source of strength for my diminishing faith. He will see me through my difficulties and deal with the injustices. In His quiet presence, my Father’s articulate silence has taught me many truths.
I have learned that God’s silence does not deprive me of His comfort. It is His presence more often than in His words that is the source of my comfort. Like the Psalmist, I associate words with comfort and His presence. “This thou hast seen, O LORD: keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me.” [iv] Jesus said, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever.”[ v] Soon I realized that God’s presence is about protection and comfort comes from my conscious awareness of His presence.
Also I have learned my heavenly Father does not tell me everything but He tells me all I need to know. When He speaks, it is purposeful. His silence is just as purposeful. The difficult response is learning to trust Him when He gives me partial answers or answers that embody irreconcilable ideas. Nothing could be more irreconcilable to Habakkuk than God’s choice of the Chaldeans to judge Israel. Habakkuk complained. God ended His response with “but the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” [vi] In silence Habakkuk listens for God and in complete trust he says, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” [vii]
Another lesson I have learned is that the silence of Christians mutes the voice of God. A believer’s unwillingness to publicly share what God has been doing in his life denies me the ability to see God’s present solutions in the solving the difficulties of others.
At other times, God chooses to be silent because his answers involve mysteries that lie beyond my ability to comprehend his purposes.[viii] My finite mind does not have the ability to comprehend all that comes from an infinite God. I do not, neither does anyone else, have the ability to instruct God. It is prudent to conclude that at times God’s message will be beyond my comprehension.
Refusing to hear an unpleasant or disagreeable message from God forces me to say God is silent. Jonah found God’s command to preach in Nineveh so disagreeable he tried to run from God. Later he just sat down and waited for God to destroy the city. Through it all God’s voice was falling on Jonah’s deaf ears. Only when Jonah was willing to listen to God, was the silence broken.
My heavenly Father is not indifferent to the needs of His children nor is He unwilling to communicate with them. As His child, I must be willing to listen for His voice. When I don’t hear His voice, is it because I am listening in all the wrong places or am I letting all life’s distractions shut out His voice? Like Elijah I often sit a cave and wait for God to speak. I, too, look for God’s voice in the spectacular, the wind, earthquake or fire. When I don’t hear Him, I begin to wonder where is God? Once I began to realize God does not abandoned his children, I became more sensitive to the still small voice of God in the little things in life.
My sin muffles (silences) the voice of God. My heart’s sinful response to God’s voice is to suppress it. When I shut out the voice of God, I conclude God is silent. He is not silent but His silence is the product of my sinful heart. Confessing my sin opens my heart to hear the voice of God.
Finally, I realize the silence of God can be His means of preparing to meet my need rather than abandonment. John Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 9:9 states that David “furnishes a remedy for the temptation
which greatly afflicts the weak, when they see themselves, and those who are like them, abandoned to the will of the ungodly, while God keeps silence. He puts us in mind that God delays his aid, and to outward appearance forsakes his faithful ones, in order at length to succor them at a more convenient season, according to the greatness of their necessity and affliction.”[ix] David understood God’s timing in both His silence and His speaking.
During times of difficulty, when God is seemingly silent, I need not yield to the temptation to abandon Him. Listening to the articulate silence of God increases my ability to trust God and reduces my fears. My daily prayer is “Lord help me to listen to you in your articulate silence.”