Skip to main content

When God is silent

A good friend gave me a copy of "Story" by Steven James. I've loved every page. Great freshness to the Biblical narrative. Explained in a new way. I've told many teens this is a book that will help them connect to God in a new way.

I'm sharing a selection on the silence of God for my teens. They long for a close intimate relationship with God. And it's very difficult when we feel silence on the other end.


Every generation has had people who have questioned whether or not God is real, but few people have ever questioned whether or not God is silent. There's not a whole lot of questions about that. God's silence is all too real. It's a deafening roar in our souls. Martyrs die whispering his name and receiving only death in response to their faith. Children helplessly watch their parents lose tough with reality through Alzheimer's, begging God for a miracle that never comes.

Where is God in those times? Why is he so silent? If God really loves us with an everlasting love, with an unfailing and enduring and magnificent love, then shouldn't he be more visible? Shouldn't he splinter the silence more often?

Welcome to the riddle of the universe.

King David, the person God called "a man after his own heart" (! Samuel 13:14), wrote these words: "My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help?" (Psalm 22:1).

And you may remember Jesus echoing those words 1030 years later when he yelled them from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).

It's such a big question, even Jesus didn't know the answer.

When a man named Job asked God why all the bad stuff was happening in his life, God was silent for thirty-seven chapters of the Bible. Finally God told him, "Who are you to question me?" And Job shut up rather quickly (see Job 38-40).

We yearn for God's presence. We call to him. We scream at him. And we hear nothing. He answers our longing with silence. Sometimes his silence is unbearable - especially for those who choose to keep believing in him.

These words were found scrawled on the wall of a concentration camp:

I believe in the sun, even though it doesn't shine,
I believe in love, even when it isn't shown,
I believe in God, even when he doesn't speak.

God's silence offers us the choice - faith or sight. We can either abandon our faith or learn to trust in the dark. God leaves that choice up to us. And all the while he's more interested in our faith in him than our ability to decipher his silences. The poet Coleman Barks wrote, "The only way we know the play of destiny and free will is to dance the mystery and die inside it."

Jesus, Job, David and that man in the concentration camp danced the mystery.

I can't think of a single place in the whole Bible where God actually explained his silence. I can think of lots of times when people asked him to, but I'm not sure he ever did. I don't know why God is so silent. I really don't know. I do know that none of these men - David, Jesus or Job - gave up on God. And God never gave up on them.

When you listen to a song, you only hear the harmony because of the emptiness between the notes. If the song is too full of notes, it becomes nothing but noise. To hear the harmony you have to let the silences have their place in the song. It's like each note is a pearl upon a necklace and the silences are what strings them all together.

Maybe God knows that without his silences in our lives, we will never hear the melody of faith.


John Meunier said…
Thank you for posting this. The bit of poetry on the concentration camp wall ... wow.

Most Read

Why Some Experienced Clergy (and Lay People) Have a Hard Time When Younger Clergy Take Renewal Leave

This is a guest post from my very own dad! He's a United Methodist pastor serving in Bend, Oregon. I enjoy chatting church leadership with my dad and it's fascinating to see how our generational differences bring different perspectives to our calling as pastor. We need each generation to walk with each other as we figure it out in this new world. We've been reflecting lately as I finished up a renewal leave and he prepares to retire this June. 
By David Beckett
I fall into the category of experienced clergy which is a polite way of saying I am old. I’ve been pastoring for nearly 40 years. When I was a young pastor my role models were mostly white males who presented an image of success that equated with dedication, overwork, and sacrifice. My first senior pastor talked about the 20 hr/wk he invested in sermon preparation. And he expected his staff to work beyond their stated hours. During those three years of full time seminary and a large youth group I put in up to 80 hr/…

Why pastors need collaboration, not competition

There's competition in every industry. Some get promoted over others. Some work incredibly hard but their gifts go unnoticed. Others do good work and people assume they're fine but underneath, they feel like they could never be honest about how hard life is in this season. People spend more energy figuring out how they measure up in a work culture instead of doing the actual work.

Competition itself implies there are two sides.

I remember field days at my elementary school in Alaska. The half-frozen spring ground was covered with clumps of dirty gray snow. Jackets were thrown on the ground as the fourth graders tried to beat the fifth graders at tug of war. Rope burns were shrugged off as sweat dripped down our young faces. We were determined to beat those fifth graders. Our pride was on the line.

Whether you're a fourth grader or an ad manager at a fancy marketing agency or a senator trying out for attorney general, competition runs deep in our DNA.

We want to be the bes…

99 sheep

Reading Matthew 18:10-14 on this cloudy Anchorage summer morning. Parable of the Lost Sheep. A guy owns 100 sheep. They belong to him. These sheep are loyal and depend on their owner for everything. But then one wanders away. I wonder if this sheep wandered on purpose or accident?

The guy leaves the 99 sheep grazing on the hillside to look for the sheep who got lost. One word in verse 13 jumped out to me. "Andifhe finds [the sheep]...he is happier about that one sheep than about the 99 that did no wander off." IF he finds it. This guy who owns the sheep probably knows the hillside very well and knows his sheep's behavioral patterns. But he may not find this lost sheep. 

When someone wanders off, it's up to them if they want to get found. 

When it comes to our connection to God, some of us may wander on accident. Or on purpose. 

We wait for someone to rescue us. Bring us back. Make it okay. But we have to turn towards the one rescuing us. God will leave the other 99 sheep…