Sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Larry Maley at Dardenne Presbyterian Church on May 21, 2017
“The Silence of God”
Scriptures: Hebrews 10:19-23 and Psalm 13:1-6
God can be maddeningly difficult to get answers from. On occasion, we have special encounters with God where He breaks into our life with power, answers our prayers, wins our trust and waters the garden of our faith. We feel gratified and for a brief period we experience a closeness to God. Then, there are seasons of life when chaos careens all around us leaving our world shattered. An unrelenting darkness descends upon us, leaving our soul cracked and parched. In our anguish, we reach out to God and He seems silent. We get the feeling God is absent and the world hopeless.
God’s quietness explains why tears tend to flow when I listen to Andrew Peterson’s song “The Silence of God” when he says,
It’s enough to drive a man crazy, it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder, if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the Heaven’s only answer is the silence of God.
All of God’s saints, if allowed to live long enough, are led into the lonely, weary wilderness of God’s silence. While there, like many Biblical characters we lament.
- Job challenged God’s silence saying, “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer. I stand, and you only look at me.” (Job 30:20).
- David, a man after God’s own heart, cried out against God’s silence with words Jesus later uttered on the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from me; so far from my cries of anguish?” (Ps. 22:1-2).
- The Apostle Paul prayed three times for relief from some physical condition which he described as “a thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). Yet, God’s answer to Paul’s affliction was to offer grace not healing.
We often think that God’s silence means He has abandoned us. Be assured that God’s silence does not equal God’s absence. Silence may be God’s invitation into something unexpected, purifying and life-altering. Too often, our demand for an immediate answer is really our attempt to put God in a box.
Yet, our heart and mind desperately yearn to understand the question: “Why does it seem like God plays hard to get, or He is just standing there looking at us when we cry to Him for help?” Like the Apostle Paul, I make no claim to understand all the mysteries of God (Romans 11:33-36). However, I believe there are clues which partially explain God’s silence toward our pleas. I’ll phrase the clues in three questions, and invite you to possibly discern God’s reasoning:
- Why I am never satisfied with what I have, but always long for more?
- Why does the thought of being denied your desire for marriage, children, freedom, or some other dream stimulate desperation in your life?
- Why do deprivation, adversity, scarcity, and suffering often produce the best character qualities in us (Romans 5:3), while prosperity, ease and abundance often produce the worst?
Did you discern the answer? God has a design for humanity which includes deprivation. Knowing our sinful nature (Romans 7:21-25), God understands that deprivation draws out our deepest desire. Absence heightens desire. Longing makes us ask; emptiness makes us seek; silence makes us knock (Luke 11:9). We would not hunger after God if this world satisfied our every desire. Yet this deceitful world constantly tries to convince us that it can provide security, happiness and satisfaction (1 Cor. 3:19; Heb. 11:38; James 4:4).
In response to the world’s unfounded claims God uses deprivation to heighten your desire for Him. Your increasing dissatisfaction, despair, emptiness, loneliness and fear feed your desire for God. In the midst of your deprivation you call out to God and what do you hear? Silence! It’s how it feels, but it is not reality. You are not alone. God is with you (Psalm 23:4). God allows your deprivations to amplify your desire for Him. You may feel as if you are alone in a desert. But it is the desert which draws you to the Living Water of Christ (Jn. 4:10, 7:38).
Consider the available options whenever God’s silence haunts you. One response is to heed the atheist’s theory that the reason God seems silent is because God does not exist. In our suffering seasons we are tempted to believe it; until we step back and take a look at the universe and it screams ‘God’ (Romans 1:20). What
we call God’s silence is phenomenological. That is a long word which describes how we can perceive something which is not true. An illustration of a common phenomenon is our perception that the world is flat. If we stood on the border of Missouri and Kansas, we would stare out on the Great Plains and naturally conclude that the world is flat. But satellite photographs assure us that we are walking on a huge spinning ball.
In similar fashion, our experience may cause us to think God is silent, until we step back and remember how God has worked in the Bible, in human history, and especially in our own life. God was never absent or indifferent to Job’s tears, David’s pleas, or Paul’s appeals. Nor is God playing hard to get with you. When you feel forsaken by God, remember you are being called to trust God’s promises more than your perception.
Our second response for responding to God’s silence is to develop a sense of guilt or self-condemnation. We tell ourselves, “God isn’t communicating with me because I’ve done something wrong and God doesn’t talk to sinners.” It is true that sin destroys our fellowship with God (Psalm 66:18-20). So God’s silence may be His way to stimulate your spiritual self-assessment. In your spiritual assessment the Holy Spirit will convict you of sin (Jn. 16:8) and lead you to righteousness (1 John 1:9).So through silence, God has drawn you closer to Himself and made you more like Jesus Christ!
My own life has been marked by periods of God’s silence. Over time I stopped asking why and started asking God what He wanted to show me. I began to see His invitation to know and trust Christ’s love for me, which initially seemed like an odd and unwelcome answer because it did not resolve my problem. And yet, as I spent more time in God’s Word, prayed for His presence and peace, and felt His love fill me in varieties of ways, my relationship with God grew deeper and my heart towards God’s people increased. By drawing closer to God instead of focusing on my problem, God drew closer to me. The promise in God’s Word was affirmed: Draw close to God and He will draw close to you (Hebrews 10:22-23).
Could my spiritual transformation have occurred without God being silent? Maybe. But God deemed that to be the best way forward for me – and possibly for you as well. Sometimes God’s perceived silence is actually His method for us to stop, to meet Christ, and do some heart work. This process can be slow and it explains why we avoid the pain and proclaim God’s silence. Yet, we will miss out on God’s best if we don’t follow His leadings and be drawn closer to Him by working through the silence.
The dark, silent place you are in right now may be God’s invitation to meet Him there. Don’t be afraid of the silence. You will not walk out the same person. The proof of that fact is Jesus Christ who three times prayed that His Father would free Him from the responsibility of dying on the Cross (Matthew 26:39-44). God must have been silent for Jesus was not relieved of HIs work on the Crucifixion. Instead God gave Him the strength to fulfill the task only He could perform. Jesus Christ knows how you feel when God seems silent. And from His own experience He says to you, “The Father is still there for you, just as He was for me.”
At the beginning of my message I shared with you the first verse of Peterson’s song “The Silence of God.” There he vocalized our pain. In the final verse, Peterson assures us that God’s silence never means God has forgotten us. It goes like this:
And the man of all sorrows, He never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that He bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God.