The Perplexing Silence of God

the-silence-of-god

Have you ever experienced God’s silence?

Have you ever felt like God was holding something back from you?

Have you ever felt like Rich Mullins and wondered what God was doing, when he sang, “While you’re up there just playing hard to get?”

Have you ever reached a place, a dark and lonely place, where you felt rejected by God?

Recently, I was asked to consider these questions. And as I contemplated them, I imagined there were probably many of us who have experienced similar feelings at one point or another in our lives. For some of us, such anxious thoughts are fleeting. Yet, for others, I bet if we don’t receive answers or are left to wait in silence for an unspecified length of time, if our faith in Christ is not secure – for whatever reason – we could be in for a time of great, internal struggle. We may wonder; where are you, Lord?

Does God choose to be silent?

Yes.

Does God hold things back from us?

Yes.

But, does God reject us?

No.

Paul wrote these words,

If we died with him, we will also live with him;

If we endure, we will reign with him.

If we disown him, he will not disown us;

If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. New International Version, 2 Timothy 2:11b-13

Our God may choose to be silent and may choose to hold things back, but He will not reject us. When we are in a place of silence, our feelings may lead us towards this conclusion. After all, when some one we love stops talking and stops choosing to spend time with us, an understandable response we may feel is deep rejection. Yet, this isn’t what our God is doing  – we just think He is

The critical response during such times is to dismiss such feelings and instead look to Christ.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. New International Version, Colossians 3: 1-3

Our heart is capable of taking us down a lonely, heart-breaking and deceptive path.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.

Who can understand it? New International Version, Jeremiah 17:9

It is therefore, imperative that we set both our hearts and minds on Jesus Christ.  Our hearts and minds serve as the center and seat of our spiritual life. Our thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, perceptions, affections, purposes, and sensibilities are found within both our heart and mind. As a result, if we refrain from looking to Christ and instead focus on circumstances, feelings or perceptions that lead us to believe God is silent, inactive, absent or anything else, we have the potential to fall victim to heart deception and may  conclude He has turned His back on us and playing hard to get.

If we are followers of Christ, we must understand that we have died with Christ. Our life is now hidden with Christ in God. What does it mean to be hidden with Christ? Kruptos is the Greek transliterated word for hidden. Kruptos means that something is hidden, concealed and able to escape notice. It is kept in secret. In other words, we are hidden and secure in Christ for a Kingdom to Come! Mathew Henry wrote, “Our true life lies in the other world. Christ is at present a hidden Christ, or one whom we have not seen; but this is our comfort, that our life is hid with him and laid up safely with Him.”

It says in 1 Peter: Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,  for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. New International Version, 1 Peter 1:8-9

Yet, I wonder.

For some one who is experiencing the silence of God in their lives at the present moment, what does a hidden Christ mean to them? Does a hidden Christ provide the comfort and security that Mathew Henry proclaims?

For it is true, God’s silence is evident throughout generations of recorded Scripture.

There was a 400 year gap of time between the death of Joseph and his generation and the numerous rise of the Israelite population of Egypt at the time of Moses. No spoken word of God or evidence of His activity was recorded during these years.

There was another 500 period of silence between the life of Malachi and other post-exilic prophets and the birth of Jesus Christ.

And even in our present day, the final words of Revelation ushered in another period of silence where we wait upon the return of Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Let’s get a bit more personal, though. The above examples are historical, but fail to capture the feeling and intensity of what some of us experience when God is silent or we feel the separation from a hidden Christ.

Job: “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me.” New International Version, Job 30:20

David: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” New International Version, Psalm 22: 1-2

Habakkuk: “Your eyes are too pure to approve evil. And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they?”  New International Version, Habakkuk 1:13

We want our God to answer us when we call, right? Our desperate appeals for a reply from God could echo David’s during his time of silence with God…

David: “Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice, and be gracious to me and answer me. When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O LORD, I shall seek.” Do not hide Your face from me, Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation!” New International Version, Psalm 27: 7-12

Like David, we could feel discombobulated and unsure. We could wonder why a supposedly active, loving and interested God chooses silence in our time of need and questioning.

Where are you, God?

Why are you silent about my suffering?

Why are you silent about my barrenness?

Why are you silent about my singleness?

Why are you silent about my lack of work?

Why are you silent about my depression?

Why are you silent about my cancer?

Why are you silent about my betrayal?

Why are you silent about my family?

Why are you silent about my decision?

Why are you silent about my hopes and dreams?

And while we’re at it, God, why are you silent about…

….human trafficking?

…world disasters and their tragic impact?

…corrupt leaders and their discriminatory governmental policies?

…diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB, ebola, and more?

…countries that wage war for power, influence and position at the expense of human life?

…abortion?

…racism, discrimination, and xenophobia?

…extreme poverty?

…famine and drought?

…persecution against the church?

Are you even listening to us here, God?

What on earth could be the purpose in this silence during these very personal and very serious and tragic situations?

Incredulously to some, I’m sure, John Piper writes that the silence of God is actually an incredible gift and the divine design of deprivation:

There is a pattern in the design of deprivation: Deprivation draws out desire. Absence heightens desire. And the more heightened the desire, the greater its satisfaction will be. It is the mourning that will know the joy of comfort (Matthew 5:4). It is the hungry and thirsty that will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Longing makes us ask, emptiness makes us seek, silence makes us knock (Luke 11:9).

Deprivation is in the design of this age. We live mainly in the age of anticipation, not gratification. We live in the dim mirror age, not the face-to-face age (1 Corinthians 13:12). The paradox is that what satisfies us most in this age is not what we receive, but what we are promised. The chase is better than the catch in this age because the Catch we’re designed to be satisfied with is in the age to come.

John Piper’s reflection brings me back once again to the words of Paul to the church of the Colossians and to Believers everywhere:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. New International Version, Colossians 3: 1-3

Our hearts and minds cannot remain focused upon perception, upon temporal circumstance, or unpredictable feelings of this time and of this place alone. They lead us to places that provide little comfort, security or peace of mind. In fact, we can go crazy wondering what the silences of God mean – especially in light of how depraved man and his actions can be. For how can we understand and make meaning of God’s silence in the face of incomprehensible human suffering and loss?  We honestly can not.

Instead, we can choose to trust our God through such times – even when the times seem to go on forever and provide little solace. For me, my own personal experiences with the silences of God have only drawn me closer to Him. My desire for Christ and to know and love Him more, although certainly not finished,  have matured and deepened – especially during and after the times when I called out longest and hardest for his assuring Presence over and over and over again. Ultimately, I chose to surrender to Him and to the mysteries of His silence.

What does such a choice of surrender to the perplexing silence of God provide us?

It is the choice to seek the eternal – the hope of our salvation – to seek our hidden life in Christ in God.

It is here, hidden in Christ, that I do find His love, His peace and His Presence. And isn’t this ultimately what we as followers of Christ are seeking in such times of silence?

The perplexing and mysterious silences of God will continue, there is no doubt. Yet one day, our Savior and Lord shall return and such mysteries will fade away:

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega”, says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” New International Version, Revelation 1: 7-8

In the meantime, I pray that we will seek to live close and in peace within the hidden Christ. It will mean all the difference. I am certain of that.

8 Comments

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  1. Interesting to see your continued musings on this. You already know my views on it so I won’t post a whole novel (this time!) But I do think that silences from “god” have a unique problem for us human beings… if he stays silent enough, it seems very much like he does not exist. If my wife were to disappear and fall silent, I might fear for her, I might wonder where she went, I might even wonder if she is dead. But I would never doubt that she actually existed, because her existence falls squarely within the realm of my physical understanding and experience. There is no such equivalent with god. If he appears to be silent and absent… well, we have to wonder if he ever existed at all. And if the only way to be reassured of his existence is to believe in him despite the silence… well that puts people like me in quite the pickle when we literally are incapable of believing in something that all our senses tell us is not there. I guess I think it seems unfair for god to require belief for salvation, and yet make himself so unbelievable. Most Christians have told me that he is not unbelievable at all… that he makes himself obvious to everyone. This implies that I either am lying about not finding him obvious (which some have openly claimed), or it requires their insistence that he /will/ reveal himself all in good time. I don’t know… but it seems strange to me that every single non-Christian that went to their death-bed as a non-Christian had an /obvious/ chance to know the truth and just rejected it. I guess I’ll find out because, right now, so far as I can tell, he ain’t there.

    • Hi Evan,

      Thanks for dropping by again! I was wondering if you would have time to see this post reflection. As you read, it contains a pretty strong Biblical orientation – but that’s my worldview – so there you go!

      You are absolutely correct that a faith in God requires belief. He is the invisible God – at least right now on earth. But, where we differ is that I believe in a tri-une God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that Jesus Christ, as God, became flesh and did walk, talk, and ultimately sacrifice His life for us here on earth. And, yes, was resurrected from the dead. Now, I can write this to you and you can read it – but without the choice to believe, it won’t mean much. For me, I have my experiences with Jesus, with God, and the Holy Spirit that have over the years continued to build and reinforce my faith. My life experiences brought me closer to Him. I can’t say for sure, but some of your experiences seem to have done the opposite. Is that right? And if this is true, I am deeply sorry for that.

      I do appreciate you for reading this last post. I really was challenged by your thought that God has rejected you. In my understanding of God, He doesn’t do that. Yet, this is what you feel and believe. It just made me wonder how many other people out there may feel the same way. I am grateful you shared these insights with me.

      Thanks again, Evan!

      Take care,
      heather

      • Yes, it is written from a biblical world view and that’s fine. It’s kind of fun reading your articles because actually understand the biblical language pretty well. It’s like hearing my native tongue since I grew up with it and still remember way more bible stuff than I feel like I really need anymore :P. I sometimes laughingly call myself “the worst atheist” because I can still remember and quote obscure bible scriptures or understand turns of phrases and cultural cues that are common to at least American forms of protestant Christianity and I can play devils advocate all day long with both my Christian friends and my atheist friends since I understand both sides pretty well. As such, i am sort of the default translator for some of my other atheist friends if they are trying to understand Christian discussions. You’re a missionary, so maybe you’re used to this, but it always amazes me how much it can seem like a totally different language to an outsider!

        I will say that I’m not sure I have a choice to believe in the triune god and resurrection, etc. I could say I believe. I could go back to praying and going to church or reading the bible. But that wouldn’t make me actually believe. Believing means that you are convinced that something is true. I can’t force myself to think something is true when everything I know tells me its false… just like you can’t convince yourself that its false if everything you know tells you its true. I just can’t believe… it is impossible for me. At the time that I abandoned the faith, I would have gladly latched onto any sort of evidence that might convince my brain of something that it was becoming certain was untrue. But there was no such evidence to be found, so whether I wanted to or not, I stopped being capable of believing. I don’t regret that now, but I also know I’d certainly revise my views if I ever had evidence to do so. But if god provides no evidence for myself to me, then I suppose it’s hardly my fault that I don’t believe. I really don’t have a choice.

      • Hi Evan!

        Thanks for continuing the conversation!

        I agree with you that there is a definite lingo Christians use – sometimes over the top and not always too helpful – and sometimes just plain beautiful and uplifting. It’s like any culture, I guess. You have a shared language that carries with it a shared meaning. However, in my mind, you’ve got to be real and make it a point to both hear the person you’re speaking with and communicate in a way that is understood. Sometimes, some Believers just like to hear themselves talk – maybe this is true of many of us regardless of who we are or what we believe or what we do. I imagine in your scholastic world you guys have a lingo and vocabulary that you share that would be difficult for others of us to comprehend completely.

        I guess my point is that regardless of whom we interact, we make it a point to listen and understand – and if that means we curtail the ‘Christianese’ verbage that doesn’t mean anything to some one, we do it. Jesus Christ was fantastic about doing that. He sought to relate to his audience -he spoke to their need and to their heart. But on the other hand, now that I think about it, he also shared stories and parables that carried significant meaning and not everyone comprehended what he said. Later, he would need to explain with greater clarity to those who truly sought to understand. Not sure why I’m going here in my thoughts, but there you go!

        Gosh, Evan, really? You don’t think you have choice in what you do or do not believe about God? Do you believe you have choice on other matters in your life? Or because you don’t necessarily see something as true or see evidence of it, then it’s not your fault that you don’t believe its existence.

        I guess I’ curious. What kind of evidence are you looking for from God to substantiate His existence?

        I would really be interested in your thoughts on that!

        Thanks, heather

      • Haha, oh man, do we ever have our own “vocabulary” and there’s a lot of really arrogant physicists who don’t have any interest in making their vocabulary accessible to others and will look down their noses at anyone who doesn’t understand what they are talking about. Sometimes I just want to shake some sense into some of my colleagues, but that’s another story. 😛 Arrogance is in no way limited to any one group of human beings.

        Yeah, I don’t think I have much of a choice in whether or not I believe in god. I do think I have choices in the things that I /do/. But when it comes to believing something exists or not, there’s only so much I can control. Beliefs are similar to thoughts and feelings. If someone hits me, I can choose how to respond, I can choose how I speak to them and what I do, but I can’t control whether or not I am angry. If I wanted to, I could tell them I’m not angry and I could try to act not angry, but I WOULD be angry and there would be absolutely nothing I could do about that besides try to hide it. I see belief in god similarly. I can say I believe, I can act like I believe, I can pray or go to church, I can try to convince myself with studies or books or scripture or alleged miracles, but I cannot MAKE myself believe that something exists if I have no evidence that my mind can accept. I can’t choose to believe in god anymore than I can choose to believe the sky is green… my brain knows otherwise and no amount of repeating “the sky is green” will actually trick it into thinking the sky is green. God is the same way for me.

        As far as what sort of evidence I would need… that’s a tough one. It would have to be evidence that would be objective enough that I would not have to rely too heavily on my own interpretation of it. Of course, anything that I see will have to be processed through my own filter, so nothing will be 100% objective. But if I have to attribute the evidence to god by my own desires and interpretation, then I’m going to be skeptical of it. I’ve seen that happen to many times (and done it myself too many times) with disastrous consequences, and god was never in any of it. People are spectacularly good at attributing things to god when there are perfectly reasonable natural explanations for them. When people say “god protected me” or “god told me” or “god allowed this to happen” or any number of other things, I wonder “if god wasn’t involved in any way, could the same thing have still happened?” and the answer is always “yes.” It seems to me that god only shows up in peoples’ minds, when they want to attribute additional meaning to mundane things. Also, “god” changes names (or number or gender or other attributes) depending on who is talking about him/her/them but generally seems to act in the same mysterious never-quite-visible ways. I would need to see some evidence of god that defied the workings of the natural world. Otherwise, the way things physically work doesn’t change at all depending on whether you assume god is in charge of them or not.

        Now, beyond that, even if I saw something that convinced me that there was a god/gods, I would need something also to convince me that this is the Christian god, versus any number of others or some god that has not yet been described.

        Of course, the fact that I don’t see any of this doesn’t mean god doesn’t exist. But I do suspect that, if there are higher powers, they don’t seem to be interacting with us. They certainly aren’t interacting with me. Maybe they aren’t interested. Or maybe they don’t exist. Or maybe they don’t like me. I don’t know. But I can’t be convinced that something is there when they are invisible and inaudible and have no effect on the world as I know it at all. Does that make sense?

        So I’m honestly not sure exactly what I would need to see to be convinced of god, but I have some vague criteria of what would and would not work and I haven’t seen it yet.

        Now, if god is out there and he is connected to some people and lets others do their own thing… that’s fine. He doesn’t seem to interact with the world physically in any way and he doesn’t talk to me, but if some people can find meaning and strength or any other such thing from him/her/them, that’s a little harder to quantify. I don’t really believe in it, but I also don’t see any reason to reject it out of hand. But if we go on to say that this god punishes or rejects anyone that he decided not to be in communication with… well that just seems mean, since it’s hardly my fault that he didn’t care to speak up. If he just wants to let me do my own thing, I am happy with that, and that’s what I’ll do.

        Am I clearing things up at all? 😛

  2. Hi Evan,

    Thank you very much for your explanation about what kind of evidence you would need to substantiate the existence of God.

    If I am tracking with you correctly, you need some kind of objective criteria for God’s existence. Something real and tangible and not just because some one said so or because someone experienced something. You appreciate that people have their own impressions, experiences and understandings of God, but you believe that some of these things could have just happened any way – people just gave God the credit.

    So for example, as I’ve shared, I’ve been a pretty sick duck the past four weeks. On Monday, when I saw the doctor, he was pretty sure I needed a CAT scan and then most likely surgery the following week. I was very discouraged. Basically what happened is that I had severe laryngitis which then morphed into another infection. I did not want surgery, I can tell you! I wanted to be better, but nothing of consequence was happening to improve me. So, I said enough is enough and I went down on my knees and prayed like crazy. I asked our prayer team to pray. I continued my medication regime, of course. However, I really felt like this was some kind of spiritual battle and I needed a breakthrough that could only come from the healing hand of Jesus Christ. Well, some improvement happened, but not enough to stop the CAT scan from being scheduled. So, I did that yesterday. I then saw my ENT in the afternoon. Upon review, he determined that although the healing was slow, it was happening and there was no evidence of diseased tissue or polyps. I did not need surgery. He was surprised, but pleased. Me? I did a happy dance in the reception room as my husband and I left. What a relief! As a result, I am praising my God big-time for answering my prayers. I’m not completely well yet. However, there is hope and I’m holding onto that. None of these feelings or thoughts are objective. They are my own experiences based upon the revelation and hope I have in Jesus Christ. And I think that is what is different about us. For me, my faith centers upon the love, hope, security and strength I have in Jesus Christ that leads me into a close and intimate relationship with God, the Father. As I shared, it is not objective. A revelation has occurred in my life not just one time, but countless times that reinforces my faith and as I go forward in life, I cannot imagine not seeking God and His Son for things like my health, my family, and more.

    I agree with you that we do have to be careful in what we attribute to God. As I shared before, I have friends who left their marriages for each other because they felt God led them. I honestly doubt God did that. They listened to feelings and gave into emotion. In addition, they isolated themselves from their community and failed to be accountable. As Believers, we need to seek the word of God, be accountable to others, and basically act with good sense. If not, we have the potential to be quite foolish.

    So, right now, as I understand you, your life is working without the need of a God or Savior. You have peace with that. And unless, there is some kind of radical revelation from Jesus Christ – and that is whom I belong and trust with my life – you are content to keep going as you are.

    I still contend that we have choice in life as to what we believe, think, and feel. You have chosen to love your wife for example. And I wonder, is the love you have for her based on something objective? For me, love isn’t based on facts. Love is influenced by feeling and emotion, isn’t it? So, is it possible to love God? For me, the answer is yes. Why? Because I believe He loves me and because of all of the life experiences we have shared together – my love has grown for Him because He has been faithful to me and poured His love into my life time and time again – even this week when I needed His touch of healing.

    I cannot make you believe in God again, Evan. You have a long, long history of experiences with the church and with other Believers – some quite painful – that I think have played a role in your view of God. Some of us really blow it and instead of leading some one to Christ, we do exactly the opposite. In my mind, a lot of it is based on fear – we’re too afraid of this, that or the other thing – and because of that fear we project our junk onto others. Who on earth would want to be part of a faith that is so judgmental and heartless and even cruel? I wouldn’t.

    I think that if we really trusted God and let go of our fears, worries, and ‘what-ifs’ and just started showing people more respect and more love, we, as Believers, would really be exhibiting the life of Christ on earth. We have to get over ourselves – as Scripture says, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” New International Version, Philippians 2:1-5.

    There is nothing objective in that verse – nothing at all.

    I want you to know Evan, that I really, really, REALLY appreciate what you are sharing with me. I don’t really know what all of this means as we continue to dialogue, but I am grateful for the opportunity. Thank you!

    I am going to continue to think about what you wrote.

    Take care,
    heather

    • Thank you! I appreciate your openness and interest. I am right now working on my last couple of hours of studying before my last final exam and I’m also simultaneously sick with some sort of flu-like something and dealing with a relapse into some mental-illness stuff (family-situation-related) so hey, I may not believe in god, but if you’ve got some extra prayers, it can’t hurt! I’m going to have to leave it at that for now because of obvious time restraints, but I’ll look forward talking again next time! For now I think I will follow your blog so that I know when you write.

      Glad to hear that you’re feeling better!

      • Hi Evan,

        Thanks!

        Sorry you’re not feeling that great either. It’s no fun to be sick!

        Be assured of my prayers for you as you study for your final exam and as you deal with other things – physical, emotional, mental etc.!

        Glad to do it!

        Take care and we’ll connect soon,
        heather

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