It is one of the loudest things you will ever hear.
The silence of God.
The battle-torn heart-cry rasps your voice, your cheeks redden, salt-burned with tears, and you raise your face, hoping to hear a word…hoping to hear anything at all…
But there is only the sound of the blood pulsing in your ears and the rise and fall of your breath marking out the moments of no answers.
You likely wrestle with His silence just as I do .
When He is silent, I reflect on why I am silent at times.
I ponder and remain silent. But then, He ponders nothing. There is no need. He knows all things.
When overwhelmed or distracted, I speak little. But a God who is perfectly attentive to all things can never share those all-too-common human weaknesses.
God is not an overwhelmed, cosmic, short-order cook, nor is He frozen in thought like Rodin’s famous Thinker, but trying to make sense of the silence, I often default to my own, most-negative reasons for wordlessness.
Upon growing unhappy, angry or indifferent, I ignore the object of my displeasure. When someone I care about is in distress or need, I want to answer. When they need to talk, I want to be there. When there is trust, there is open communication.
But when I am hurt, betrayed or ridiculed, I grow silent.
So often, in moments of God’s silence, I make Him over in my own image and assign to His inaction reasons of my own styling.
God is angry at me.
God does not care.
God is ignoring my cry.
None of which are true, as one of His children, but still the thoughts come.
A quick look over the Psalms will yield evidence of His silence while the cries of His people echo loudly…
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest (Psalm 22:2).
Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground. Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love! (Psalm 44:23-26).
O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! (Psalm 83:1).
And one of the most heart-rending statements can be found in Job…
I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me (Job 30:20).
“You only look at me…” The very statement makes me think of a child crying for a father who just stares, unmoved, and does nothing.
The silence of God can be terrifying. In the midst of fear and uncertainty, when we seem to need a word from Him most, He is often silent.
So what do we do when we are worried, fearful and seeking, but the heavens are brass? We may have repented of everything He has brought to our minds, and approach Him with pure hands and a clean heart, and yet only have the silence to ring back upon itself.
So what do we make of His silences?
For one, there are things that only God knows…
It is the glory of God to conceal things…(Proverbs 25:2).
The secret things belong to the LORD our God… (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Secondly, we know that He only does things the right way…
This God–his way is perfect…(Psalm 18:30).
Finally, we cannot anticipate or fully grasp certain actions of God…
Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen (Psalm 77:19).
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…(Ephesians 3:20).
So then, being perfect and never careless, even His silences have meaning. Like pauses between the notes of music, the times of no answers are building toward an end that only He sees clearly. It is His glory to reveal and conceal at His will. Since His way is perfect, and He can do no wrong, when He is silent, it is good, purposeful and, yes, glorious.
Let’s consider a well-known passage in this context of God’s silence and unanswered prayers.
John 11:1-6 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
It’s those last two verses that will drive you to confusion.
Verse 5 and 6 do not seem to go together. If Jesus loved them, then why on earth did He not go immediately?
Don’t gloss over this idea, and don’t dismiss it. There is something going on there that needs to be examined.
The word used in verse 6 “so” can be translated as “then, therefore, accordingly, consequently, these things being so.” In other words, verse 5 and verse 6 are joined because the second verse is a result of the information in the first verse.
Try reading it like this: Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [Because of this], when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
In some ways, that is more frightening than an apparent contradiction.
A few years ago, I told a friend of mine that I was preparing to speak to a group about the story of Lazarus in John 11. I said that I planned to talk about Jesus’ silence when asked to come to them, His sense of timing and how He’s never late. It’s the standard approach to the story. My friend just stared at me and told me that he didn’t know if Jesus was trying to show Mary and Martha something about His timing when He delayed in coming to Bethany when Lazarus was sick. Instead, He wanted to show them something about Himself they didn’t know. My friend said, “They knew Him as the Healer, but He wanted them to know Him as the Resurrection.”
He is right.
His statement reminded me of one from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost For His Highest:
“When you cannot hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible — with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation.”
Jesus was trusting Mary, Martha and Lazarus with a new revelation of Himself out of His love for them and for His own glory. He knew that they had grown to a place where they were ready for something more…more of Him. He made them wait, not for a healing, not even for a physical resurrection, but for a divine revelation that would change them forever.
We always think that we are ready for the next revelation, but only He knows when we are prepared for what He will give us. God knows when we can handle more of Him.
Yesterday morning, I wrote these words:
Now Jesus loved ______________. Because of this, He ______________________, so that He would be known in a deeper way.
Then I began to think of things in the Bible that could easily fit in the blanks.
Now Jesus loved the disciples. Because of this, He allowed them to go through the storm so that they might have more faith, so that He would be known in a deeper way.
Now God loved Moses. Because of this, He allowed him to be an unknown in the land of Midian for forty years to prepare him to be used to deliver God’s people, so that He would be known in a deeper way.
Now God loved the world. Because of this, He sent his own Son to die on our behalf, so that He would be known in a deeper way.
I even pondered those 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the New Testament. What was God doing? Setting the world stage. For what? For the greatest revelation of himself, Jesus, to the world.
Then I took the words, and the blanks, and wrote in my own name and circumstances…
Now Jesus loves Dustin. Because of this, He has delayed in answering prayers and has remained silent on specific things, so that He would be known in a deeper way.
Would you be willing to try something? The next time the silence comes, take a step of faith and say, “God, thank you for trusting me with this. Thank you for loving me and trusting me with Your silence. And thank You in advance for the deeper revelation of Yourself that You plan to show me. I look forward to knowing You more. You have better things coming.”
But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).