Have you heard about the silence of God? Has that been covered in your recent Bible Study? Or, like others, have you been through it without talking about it feeling like something was wrong with your relationship–like you had failed God, found to be some kind of spiritual reject.
There is a strong chance that is not the case. Close to 100 percent in fact.
Imagine being one of the children of Israel during the Old Testament. Imagine knowing your ancestor Moses had once held stone tablets engraved by the finger of God. Knowing your ancestor Abraham once carried on a conversation with God under a tree, bargaining for the lives of people in his uncle’s city. Imagine hearing the prophets thunder with the warnings of God against injustice and apostasy. Straining to hear the promises of deliverance. The assurances of a Messiah.
Of hearing the last words of a hopeful promise of revival so powerful the hearts of fathers and children would once again be turned toward each other. That a “Sun of Righteousness” would rise with healing in his wings. Then, on the cusp of this blessing…
imagine 400 years of silence.
No thundering prophet, no voice from heaven, no fire to the mountain top. Silence.
I had been a believer for several years before experiencing God’s silence. Never in 20+ years of church attendance, thousands of sermons live and recorded, and untold hours of Bible study had I been told of such a thing.
When God withdrew I had no idea where He had gone. Or what I had done to send Him packing.
I knew of the Bible’s warnings of sin keeping us separated from God. I knew of John’s writing of prayer being answered as we keep God’s commandments. I was earnest in prayer, and, as far as I could tell, in God’s word and obedient to it.
But prayer was dry. Bible study was unfruitful. There was within a sense of emptiness, of separation. At another point in my life I would have used the term, “Like a thundercloud was over me at all times, even indoors.”
Often during these times well-meaning friends will give spiritual pep-talks that reveal little more than their lack of familiarity with the circumstance. Trite sayings like, “Are you feeling far from God? Guess who moved?” prove hopelessly naive to one chasing God furiously only to find Him gaining speed and ground.
Sometime after that period I was reading C.S. Lewis’ brilliant novel, The Screwtape Letters, in which an elder demon counsels a younger demon in the ways of temptation. Their subject being a new believer, the elder, Screwtape, wants to advise the younger, Wormwood, on keeping the young man from spiritual growth. One section, which has moved me over and over in the years between speaks to the peaks and troughs of growth. We might call them the mountain tops and valleys. The troughs, or valleys, being those times when God is silent and we truly sense nothing of His presence at any time. Yet during those periods genuine spiritual growth and can does take place, albeit painfully. Writes Lewis,
He will set them off [at conversion] with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, as least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives.
It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
Some years later, I found in study a passage from the Bible that seemed to speak to this very thing spoken by one who seemed to know a thing or two of God’s silence. In chapter 23 of that book God’s servant said,
If I go east, He is not there, and if I go west, I cannot perceive Him. When He is at work to the north, I cannot see Him; when He turns south, I cannot find Him. Yet He knows the way I have taken; when He has tested me, I will emerge as pure gold. My feet have followed in His tracks; I have kept to His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the commands of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth
more than my daily food.
What did Job do when he did not see God, feel God or sense God? He did the only things he knew that would please God. And, according to the final chapter of that great book, it was enough to get God’s unqualified “Amen” on his life.
Even Jesus went through this silence on the cross. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? was not a shout designed for theological exploration. It was the gut wrenching cry of one abandoned in the greatest time of need He had ever known. If Jesus went through a period of actual abandonment, no matter how brief those three hours seem to us, should I expect to undergo no such trial?
If others besides Job, our heros of the faith, underwent times of shouting to a battened sky hearing only the echo of their exhausted plea in return, should I expect always an immediate answer carried on angels wings to my ear? Shall I never expect darkness before dawn, mourning before dancing, or questions before answers?
Of course we all should. It is through these valleys, where the shadow of death is ever present, that we come to long for, and eventually experience, the fullness of the life He has given.