An unthinkable concept to some, I know. But we must be honest about the Christian life.
Obviously, taken as a whole, God is not silent. He spoke the earth into existence. He revealed himself through the created order, through great miracles, through the prophets, through the apostles, and through His Son Jesus Christ. Daily He is revealed in creation (Ps. 19:1-6); and as often as we read the Scriptures, He is revealed to us there as well (Ps. 19:7-11).
But if honest with ourselves (at least as far as I've personally experienced) I believe there is no mistake in saying that we all have times where we feel absent of a personal awareness of God's presence in our lives - a personal experience of His relationship with us. We read of His relationship to us in Scripture, yet the feeling of His presence can remain vague at times, even absent.
Of course...it really does help me greatly to be reminded from the book of Ephesians how much God has done for us. How...when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, He - and He alone - raised us up with Christ (Eph. 2:1-6), raised us to a position that is so far above what we can even now truly understand. Words cannot describe the complexity of this concept: that God, holy, righteous, and pure would take what is a natural object of His justwrath and pronounce this detestable thing that we are as blameless because of our inclusion in Christ the Beloved! How marvelous and joyous this is! And even now as I think of it, it enraptures me afresh in the joy of the Lord! How blessed we are to be owned and purchased and loved by our Sovereign!
Then life takes me back to the mire of experiential reality. Truly our position is so magnificently assured in the book of Ephesians, but we wait for the day when we see our Lord face to face in order to have an experiential understanding of it. Until that point, ourexperience is not always as enrapturing as our position in Christ.
In experience...I certainly do not always feel His personal relationship with me. I find myself unaware of His presence. "Where is God?" I ask. Many times this question comes up in (and is most revealed by) my prayer life.
I pray for things - godly things - for years on end...only to see no response at all, or to feel the bitter response of "No" concerning the things I ask. I do not ask for things for my own pleasure, as the ones described in the book of James do - not in this case. I ask for things that are righteous - the very things for which we are encouraged to ask in Scripture - and I'm not bragging. This is His work in me! Yet I am still denied these very things for which I am so greatly compelled to ask!
Why is that? And what then do I do? What is there to do when I read God telling me in Scripture to pray fervently, but in reality all I feel and all I see is what appears to be wasted breath? What am I to do when this carries on for years (and I mean years) at a time?
Why is God so silent...?
Surely you know. Indeed, you understand. You've read the book of Job and comprehend the great mysteriousness of God - that He is altogether so incomprehensible that in reality we do not even have a small grasp of Who He is and what He is doing in this vast planet. "Why is God so silent at times?" That is for Him - and Him alone - to know. What a mighty and pure truth this is. And so long as we are able to understand this, it will do us well in remembering this great attribute of the holy Lord of all creation.
Yet what do we do? What do we do when God is silent? And how can we reconcile this unfortunate experience with our anticipations of bliss? How can we appreciate the acts of God when He acts in such silence, such silence indeed that it appears He is not acting at all? What do we do while we live here in this lonely desperation, lacking in direction and understanding?
Truly this is a sad plight - and life can truly be a sad plight at times (and for some of us, atmany times). Nevertheless, I am tempted to think to myself in these circumstances..."You're prayers are not answered, why bother to pray?" And this is a sad thought, indeed, to entertain. But I assure you it is one that enters my mind more often than I'd like. And I also assure you I am not alone in thinking it.
Yet what is the answer to this tempting appeal? What do we answer to the nagging question, "If your prayers go unanswered, why keep praying?"
What I have discovered by God's graciousness toward me is that the answer, which is clear in Scripture, is that the answer is not all that clear. I will say it again. The answer in Scripture as to why God is silent at times - is clear that our understanding of His silence will not always be that clear.
There are many possibilities to why our prayers seem to go unanswered, and there are many possibilities to why God seems to be so silent at times. Indeed that is a deep mystery of our great God; and once again the unwanted face of the book of Job looks in our direction to show us how human we are and how incomprehensible He is. Yet even amidst this terrifying thought, God is gracious. Even amidst this blurry understanding, this completely unclear understanding as to why God is so silent, there remain vivid comforts throughout the Scriptures - comforts to which we will do very well to cling in our utter desperation to hear His voice.
These things I have come to understand by His graciousness, and I wish to share them here with anyone else who might be struggling with the same relentless thought of why God is seemingly so silent at times. What do I do when God is silent at times? Besides cry out for understanding and wait patiently for an answer, it is in these revealed truths that my soul takes comfort:
(1) I am not alone. Numerous times in Scripture we hear the psalmists crying out to God in such a fashion that only leads us to believe that God has, in a very real sense, been quite silent in His regard to them. Consider the following cries:
"My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord - how long?" (Ps. 6:3)
"Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God." (Ps. 69:1-3)
"O Lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles...Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves." (Ps. 88:1-7)
"Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!" (Ps. 90:13)
The psalmists clearly had no concept of God's presence in their lives at the time they were writing - a fact that is clear by their unrelenting cries for Him to reveal Himself.
How long will it be until God reveals Himself again? "My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God" - with waiting for Him to reveal Himself, with waiting for Him to answer prayers for mercy and guidance and direction. How long will it be? How long will it be until God shows up once again in my life?
That is a question these psalmists dealt with throughout their writings, yet God was not far off - despite what they experienced. In fact, even as much as they were crying and asking Him to reveal Himself, He was working in them to write the very Scriptures of God.
Nonetheless....our forefathers in the faith were no different than me in their despair of not feeling or seeing God's presence among them - except that their despair and experience was no doubt far worse than my own. Yet they still despaired of being absent from a personal experience with God. This fact I will do well to remember.
There is a truth to the saying "misery loves company." I am not at all glad that others have suffered; yet I am very relieved to realize I am not the only one (1 Pet. 5:9). This is a comfort I take when my life bears a strong witness to the silence of God. Yet there are still other Biblical comforts.
(2) I am being disciplined. Another explanation for God's silence is that of discipline. Surely this is not something fun about which to hear or think; but it is a Biblical concept. (Heb. 12:7-11)
The thing is, you don't necessarily have to be doing something wrong in order to endure discipline. Certainly discipline is the way to correct wrong thinking or acting. But Jesus our Lord and Savior Himself, "learned obedience through what he suffered" (Heb. 5:8). And being made perfect "through suffering" He became the legitimate source of our salvation (Heb. 2:10). Obviously in character He was always infinitely perfect, being the very God of creation. Yet in experience, as a man, He became perfect after enduring discipline and temptations (being "tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin" - Heb. 4:15).
Discipline as we ourselves know it is mainly to correct. But we must understand that it is also used simply to train (Heb. 12:11). This is perhaps what God was doing to the otherwise godly psalmists mentioned previously - training them. And in this concept I take great comfort; because although painful during the silence, it is clear that it only brings me closer to the Savior.
Yet there is still another thing to bear in mind when God is silent in my life.
(3) There is truly a spiritual battle. Another thing for me to consider is that there is a true spiritual battle going on around me, of which I am completely unaware. You've probably heard or read this before, but it is always good to be reminded from Scripture. Remember the account of Daniel. Remember how he prayed and fasted for "three weeks" (21 days) and finally made contact with the angel Gabriel whom God had sent. Gabriel's first message to him was that his prayer was heard from the very first day, yet he, Gabriel, had been prevented from coming for "21 days" by a demonic power! (Dan. 10:1-14)
The New Testament follows this account when it tells us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the Satanic powers of darkness (Eph. 6:10-20). These very forces are against us! And our fight for wanting to experience God's presence and see our prayers answered is in no special category here. Clearly there is another world in operation that we cannot see - and it has an effect on our perception of God and what He is doing. This too I will do well to remember.
Now I often hear it remarked that if God is all-powerful, why did he let Gabriel be detained at all, which leads me to yet another comfort from Scripture during these times in my life when God is so silent in my personal experience.
(4) I simply cannot comprehend all of God's works. It's interesting that Scripture does not record Gabriel asking this question. And of course this question leads to another - if He intends not to answer our prayers, why does He ask us to pray? And this again forces us back to the book of Job, and his ultimate question - "Why [anything], God?"
To this question the Scriptures reply. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. 55:8-9) God is not here simply saying, "I do things because I can," which is so often inferred. God is saying that sometimes the reasons for what He does or does not do are so incomprehensible to us, that we simply do not have the capacity to understand them. Even if He did explain them, we would not comprehend. His knowledge is far too vast! (Ps. 139:6, 17)
And this really is a comfort. In as much as it is a comfort for a child to run to his father or mother upon hearing a strange, unfamiliar and scary noise which the child cannot at all comprehend, so this is a comfort to me as well. I cannot comprehend the silence of God - but I can trust that He does comprehend it and knows what to do about it.
This thought, then, of God's knowledge being too vast and His silence still being such a reality brings me to my final thought regarding the matter.
(5) God has a purpose for His silence. It helps me greatly to remember Amos. Amos the farmer turned prophet. Insignificant as his book appears, hidden in the 'minor' prophets, he alone made the following prediction:
"Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord GOD, "when I will send a famine on the land - not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD." (Amos 8:11)
He predicted a time in which Israel would no longer hear the voice of Jehovah through the prophets. His revelation to them would be absent, no matter their longing. This is the only passage that mentions this kind of famine - one passage, tucked away in the Old Testament Scriptures - yet it covered over 400 years of history.
Known generally as the "400 years of silence" between the ministry of Malachi the prophet and the appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah, Israel was without the voice of Jehovah. During this time, they had no personal, intimate experience with Him as they did when the prophets spoke. Yet during this time they had a most significant spiritual sobering. They put away their idols and they started the synagogue system that proved to be the most useful way for the apostles to spread the gospel after the day of Pentecost.
You see...God predicted He would be silent to Israel, and He made good on His promise. Yet, although very silent indeed, He was never absent from her. He used the time of silence to sober her, discipline her, and ultimately produce something for the benefit of her and all the nations. While silent, He was clearly working - even working through his chosen people. It does me well to remember this fact.
While I may not know all the reasons God is silent at times in my relationship with Him, it does me good to see that with Israel, as silent as He was, He had a clear purpose for His silence. And I believe that no matter how long I feel this silence from Him, He does have a purpose for it. Indeed, He "works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:11), even as He "works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
I may never understand why God is silent, even right now, as I seek His direction and find no answer. But I do find comfort in the fact that I am not alone in enduring this silence. The great psalmists He used to write Scripture, along with all the other saints I'm sure, also endured the silence of God. I find comfort in knowing that He uses this time, uncomfortable as it is, to mold me to be more like Him. I find comfort in the fact that while I do not comprehend His silence, He does. And I take comfort in the fact that ultimately, He truly has a purpose for every thing He does, whether doing it vocally and visibly, or doing it silently.
As for why pray? I think the answer is clear. God tells us to pray (Rom. 12:12; Phlp. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:6-7), and we trust Him. We pray because the psalmists prayed. Sometimes they did not see the results they wanted, yet they prayed because they trusted God. We pray because while our answers may never be visible to us, we know God is using our prayers to shape us to be more like Christ. Even if they still go unanswered we pray because we know God comprehends all that He is doing, and He can be entrusted with our prayers. We pray because we know that He has an ultimate purpose for everything done under His heavens - including our prayer life, whether we comprehend it or not - and we can trust our God.
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