How do we respond when God seems silent? There is something frustratingly mysterious about the silence of God. I don’t have any easy answers for you. I don’t have a plug and play formula… do this or that and God will show up. But I do have 3 Questions to Ask in the Silence of God. They won’t erase the tension and frustration, but they may help guide you through the fog.
1. Is my suffering caused by my sin? While Job’s suffering was not caused by his sin, and while not all of our suffering is caused by our sin, there are times when our suffering is a result of our sinful choices. God designed life to be lived within His life-giving and life-sustaining boundaries, and when we choose to live outside of those boundaries, consequences, discipline, and suffering results. The Apostle Paul instructs us, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). When we choose to sin and rebel against God, we quench the voice of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. At times, God allows the consequences to come to bear. And it seems as though He’s silent. He’s actually giving us what we wanted… life without His “interference.”
When I was a senior in college, I was arrested for a DUI. After spending the night in jail, I spent the next year cleaning up the mess I created. And there were times, even when I prayed to God that He would resolve things, I sensed His silence. I wholeheartedly believe God is a God of love, grace, and forgiveness, but I also believe He lets the consequences play out. At times, it feels like the “time out” we give our kids. They want to do their own thing. So we put them in their room for a time. We don’t stop loving them, but they do experience our silence. Honestly evaluate whether your suffering caused by your sin?
2. Am I over-dependent on the experience more than the relationship? You’ve likely heard the term “dark night of the soul.” St. John of the Cross wrote about God allowing us to experience the silence (and what feels like His absence) to see whether we’re longing more for the experience of being in relationship with Him more than we’re actually longing for Him. Will we still love God, worship Him, and live by faith when we’re not experiencing the warm fuzzy… when the experience and the passion is lacking… when we feel like we’re in the desert? Let’s be honest. At times we want the water more than the Fountain… the warmth more than the Flame… the green pastures more than the Shepherd. We want the blessing more than the Blesser. Suffering and the silence of God reveal our motives and desires.
3. Will I choose faith? Job spoke this affirmation of his faith in God in the middle of the toughest crisis of his life (Job 19:25-27):
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.
Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
Whom I myself shall behold,
And whom my eyes will see and not another.
My heart faints within me!
Job says, “As for me, I know my Redeemer lives… even when my heart faints within me. Even in the confusion, the crisis, and even in my complaints that God seems silent and absent, I choose faith. I choose to believe when there’s no logical reason to believe any more.” That’s faith… a faith that hangs in there at any cost. It’s been said, “Job’s faith cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken.” At the end of the day, when you feel the silence of God, when your personal perspective and pain tell you that God is absent and disinterested, will you choose faith? Will you trust His promises that He will never leave nor forsake you… that He will cause all things (yes even His silence) to work together for your good and for the good of those around you? Will you choose faith?
I’ll close with a quote from Philip Yancey’s Disappointment with God:
You could read Job’s story, puzzle over The Wager, then breathe a deep sigh of relief: Phew! God settled that problem. After proving His point so decisively, surely He will return to his preferred style of communicating clearly with His followers. You could think so—unless, that is, you read the rest of the Bible. I hesitate to say this, because it is a hard truth and one I do not want to acknowledge, but Job stands as merely the most extreme example of what appears to be a universal law offaith. The kind of faith God values seems to develop best when everything fuzzes over, when God stays silent, when the fog rolls in.