The Silent God
I just wanted to take a moment to share a bit of my thoughts around our current mood.
And it’s fine to be in complete disagreement about this. We are all coping with and processing this in our own different ways. I dare not say I can speak for most of us — talk less of all of us. I’m by no means an authority here — but I hope it is at least a considered articulation.
I want to start by sharing one of my favourite CS Lewis quotes from A Grief Observed. Lewis is writing on the experience of bereavement following the death of his wife, Joy Davidman
But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?
Without doubt this is how I sometimes feel with God’s silence.
We shouldn’t feel alone in this fear and anger towards the silence. Let’s turn a second to one of our fellow brothers whom God was silent towards. God channeled his silence towards our fellow brother and our brother was forced to echo these famous words “”Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” These are the words of Jesus on the cross when his omnipotent, omniscient father went silent. They were playing politics with our gentle saviour — Pontius Pilate and the Jewish leaders. Jesus was deserted by his friends — Peter and the rest. They were mocking him and jesting over him — the soldiers by him at the cross. But most importantly, he was abandoned by a loving God — that seems to me, to some of us, the most callous of actions.
Lewis again helps us:
Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’
But let’s take a moment to think about this: God. Was. Silent. To. Jesus. (*brief pause*)
God was silent to the point that Jesus had to ask “oga, how far nau?” The entity who knew God the most was frustrated. If even Jesus can be bewildered by God’s silence. Who are we not to question it?
In fact, what Jesus is quoting is from Psalm 42 verse 9 which goes:
I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me
Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”
(Psalm 42: 9)
In this verse, we see that the psalmist — very likely David — bemoans all the troubles he has endured in his exile. The famous commenter, Matthew Henry proposes that David might have composed this psalm when he couldn’t return to Jerusalem either due to persecution by Saul or because of Absalom’s revolt.
If even David can be perturbed by the audible quietness of God, who are we not to question it? We are in great company when it comes to this God who ostensibly doesn’t care.
Why would God permit this? I wish I had an answer. I truly wish. This is one of those questions that will leave us stuck with existential angst. We don’t resolve them, they keep hammering at the back of our minds somewhere. Perhaps they don’t even have an answer: perhaps it’s like asking how many hours are in a mile? But it doesn’t matter — we keep asking them because we care. We keep asking because we are challenging God to his claim of love — as has become our right to do.
I dare not say this is for a greater purpose. I don’t have the guts to defile the memories of our lost brothers and sisters in that way. But what I know is that we can lean into the struggles of those who have come before us. We can look at Jesus’ story and David’s impending victory and perhaps yearn for a glimmer of hope. Not a rush, not a gush — but a gentle and hopeful light.
With Jesus, we see that his suffering is but a precursor to a massive victory. It’s a path of pain that would make even Jesus wish “ if it is possible, let this cup pass from me”. But what we see the morning after is the greatest victory ever — a Resurrection.
Yet, we have to be very intentional about making this victory. Faith without works is dead or so they say. The best we can look into are the actions of God — that he progresses us towards victory; like he very quietly did for David after his destitution and very quietly did with the Church after its loss of Christ. With the Church, it was a building of strength and power as it influenced and won over the Roman Empire — over the course of hundreds of years. And soon after the entire world.
All we can do is keep marching on — day after day. There is no secret ingredient. What we see in real-time is the works of the apostles and what we see with a rear view mirror is the impact of their faith. We don’t just arrive at justice, we don’t just arrive at victory. It’s a long torturous journey. A peek into MLK’s mind speaks volumes on this: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We should build even further on MLK’s point: The arc of the moral universe does not just naturally curve towards justice; we must actively bend it.” And MLK here is the shining light of being stuck at the depth of pain and sorrow but having his people awaken into a gradual victory.
It’s a long journey. Paul reinforces this in Romans 4 when he says “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope”.
There is a part of most of us that recognises this. We know it takes a long arduous effort to get things done, to make change, to age a beautiful wine, to master a skill. All we can do is fasten our seatbelts for the long journey.
We go to a silent God. We seek Justice but we only find Hope. But hope is critical for victory. So we at least know we are on the right path: we are taking the first step in the journey of a thousand miles. Oh, if only victory could be ours in a day!