When God is silent
When our prayer life is going well it’s amazing – clear direction from God, answers to prayer, we feel connected in our relationship with Him. Knowing He has answered – even if it’s not the answer you expected or wanted – feels like it feeds our faith and nourishes it. But what about when God seems silent? By Anna Hancock
Have you ever prayed and felt that absence? Like you are praying so hard and your words seem to bounce off empty walls, you feel isolated and alone.
Maybe you have prayed as a group over something and not appeared to have received any answers. More likely it is when you pray alone that you feel His apparent absence all the more.
As a fairly new Christian, I know that when you first come to faith your prayers are full of joy and praise and questions and observations – I felt like I was bombarding God with the minute details of human life, the universe and everything! And the answers, love and reassurance were abundant – much in the way we nurture and fuss over a new baby!
But there comes a time for most of us – maybe all of us – when God seems silent. We see this in the Bible too – Job said “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me, I stand and you only look at me.” King David laments “O my God, I cry by day but you do not answer and by night, but I find no rest”. And in Psalm 44 “Awake Lord, why do You sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us for ever. Why do you hide your face and reject our misery and oppression?”
So we are not alone when we ask ‘God, where are you when I need you?’
And it sometimes seems to be in times of greatest need when God appears to be silent. We’re just human – we do everything we can think of, we pray, we worship, we live our lives as faithfully as we can even when it seems life is going wrong or we are struggling – and yet we don’t seem to get any answer.
It’s in our nature to pray at times of despair – even those who haven’t come to know God will often say in a time of deep need ‘I even prayed’.
I saw this for myself when the footballer Fabrice Muamba’s heart stopped and he collapsed on the pitch in 2012 – many of the other players dropped to their knees and prayed – I’m sure they weren’t all Christians but they all felt that need to connect with God in that moment.
And that is what it feels is missing when God seems silent – that loving and reassuring connection, his guiding hand on our lives.
And yet it is not God’s absence we feel because God is never absent, it is a sense of absence.
The atheist will tell you the silence is because no-one is there! But we can just look around and know that the whole of creation is abundant with God’s presence even if He seems to be absent to us at that moment in time. God loves company, and He loves our company, He is always with us even in those times of silence.
And we have something that Job and David didn’t have – we have the word of God in the Bible. The answers we seek are written down for us for God would never instruct us to do anything that is against His teaching in the Bible. The more time we spend reading, reflecting and contemplating on His word, the easier it is to recognise and feel His presence and His leading in our lives.
It may be that it is us who have stopped listening rather than God not speaking. Perhaps the troubles of our lives have plugged our ears, or we have been under attack from the enemy, or we have neglected His word. The important thing is not to disengage at the first sign of what seems like distancing from us.
And yet it is not God’s absence we feel because God is never absent, it is a sense of absence
Strange as it may seem, God’s apparent silence can even strengthen our faith and bring us closer to Him. If we could make our Creator come at our beck and call, to ‘perform’ when we want Him to – what kind of a God would that be? We can do that with people, with objects, with idols, but not with God. He gave us free will because he wants us to come to Him freely, why should we expect Him to do everything we ask, including to answer us every time we pray?
In hiding Himself from us He is helping us not to fashion Him in our own image. Like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia He is free and comes at will. By not ‘performing’ every time we pull the string of prayer He is freeing us from our false, idolatrous image of Him.
Some believe that His silence is a time of refining our faith in order to make it stronger and give us a closer connection with Him. When God is silent the enemy will come and play on our fears, suggesting that God is not really with us and His silence is proof of that. It can make us question and doubt. And those doubts will hit us where we have been most blind and most passive in our faith. But a trial of faith isn’t God tempting us or testing us, it is the way God BUILDS faith!
Faith needs to be tested by circumstances, the enemy, and by our own humanity and emotions – like gold being refined in the fire. All of our motives of self interest need to be brought out and examined, so that our faith can be refined and honed through our Lord Jesus Christ. God is trusting us with His silence! He doesn’t want to give us ‘information’ he wants to give us ‘revelation’ to reveal Himself not only TO us but IN us. The Christian life is not a continual stream of signs and wonders and miracles! Wouldn’t it be amazing if it was!
Yet it is about learning Christ, developing in Him, coming to know Him, and for that you need more than to be led – you need to experience God in His presence AND his absence – you need to be able to see Him even when you feel He isn’t there.
"In a mother's womb were two babies. One asked the other: "Do you believe in life after delivery?"
The other replies, "why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.
"Nonsense," says the other. "There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that life be?"
"I don't know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths."
The other says "This is absurd! Walking is impossible. And eat with our mouths? Ridiculous. Life after delivery is to be excluded."
"Well” says the other “I think there is something and maybe it's different than it is here." The first baby says “No one has ever come back from there. Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere."
"Well, I don't know," says the other, "but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us."
"Mother??" You believe in mother? Where is she now? "She is all around us. It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world."
"I don't see her, so it's only logical that she doesn't exist."
To which the other replied, "sometimes when you're in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her. You may not always see her or hear her but I know she is there."
Picture: Alone - CherieWren - RGB Stock
Anna Hancock is a church member and enthusiastic Press Officer at Rosebery Park Baptist Church in Bournemouth. A former Catholic, Anna rediscovered faith after an apologetics course at RPBC and was baptised in 2012.