Monday, July 24, 2006

When God is silent

I had been keeping an eye on the Open – the golf tournament that Tiger Woods won. The very first day, Tiger was paired up with Nick Faldo. For some reason or other, the radio commentator was very impressed that the two of them were smiling and chatting happily as they walked the course and potted their shots. It seems that some hatchet of other had been buried. One would imagine that if the two if them were not seen to be talking, the conclusions drawn would have been about continuing hostilities. It seems to me that the two of them could have been enjoying a companionable silence enjoying each others company without the need to talk!

Silence does not have to mean enmity. But how do we react when God seems to be silent. I know that present day theology seems to be sure that God is always talking and if we can’t hear Him, the problem lies with us, some hidden sin perhaps, or a gluey spiritual ear. I am not so sure that God is always talking!

Between the writing of the Old Testament and the New Testament there were 400 years when God was silent. There was a whole lot of books written during this time that did not make it into the Bible, but they are a collection called the Apocrypha, which appears in some versions. They don’t carry the same authority as the Bible. Silences happen.

A friend of mine was sharing with me earlier on last week that she has been going through a season of God’s silence. It is distressing her as she knows that she knows God’s voice and she can’t think why He would be so silent. Rather than feeling that she is receiving sparks of revelation, life is very much flat and her Christian walk has become a lonely path in the dark. She is becoming discouraged but holding on.

There is something Christian mystics call the 'Dark Night of the Soul'. I read about it in a book I found in a second hand bookshop, “The Celebration of Discipline” by Roger Foster (?). God seems to withdraw and stand at a distance. A person hasn’t done anything wrong so it isn’t linked to sin. The author made the point that it is an experience not to be avoided because there is a deeper blessing that comes with it. He also wrote that it was an experience not to be dissected and examined or reasoned about but simply lived through. Another friend described it like “a father who is trying to lead his child further on by walking ahead of it out of sight.” The child doesn’t understand what the father is doing, or enjoy the experience.

The author made the point that in our generation things like silence and solitude seem to scare us. When you think of communication today –everything happens in thirty second sound bites. We surround ourselves with noise and do not know how to live in silence. We don’t teach our children to sit still anymore!

I posted the topic on the FW message boards. Here are some the comments made:-

“Sometimes the greatest boost in our relationship with God comes in the form of a dry and barren land that seems to have no reason. It causes us to question our faith - a faith that may have become more formulaic than vibrant. We go through the motions without coming to the event with prepared hearts.”

“Sometimes when God seems to be silent, He may be dealing with us about an aspect of our lives that He wants us to trust Him with.”

A comment that really resonated with my spirit was this one:-
Sometimes when we are low or can't feel Father with us, it's time to go outside of ourselves and do service for someone who is in need. Just the act of doing compassionate service for another fellow child of God brings us closer to Him.

1 comment:

Mark H said...

This is a tricky topic, because we're all influenced as much by our experiences as our theology. However, I'll offer some thoughts for consideration:

I don't think the theology that God is "always talking" is a modern-day theology. I think it's approximately 2,000 years old and can be seen in the writings of theologians since then. All examples I've ever come across of God being silent are in the Old Testament. But in our new covenant, Jesus sent us the person of God who is Holy Spirit, to be our counsellor, our guide, and our helper. He does not come and go, but chooses to set up residence in us, and He does not switch-on and switch-off his M.O. of counselling, guiding and helping, like some cruel practitioner of shock therapy.

But modern thinking is in danger of elevating experience over faith. If we're not experiencing it then we question our own condition and we question the nature of God, rather than choosing to believe in that which is true but presently unseen/unfelt. I believe this is why your friend on FW observes that operating in service to God helps to heighten our awareness of His presence - it is an act of faith. Regardless of how we feel, we must always read our Bible believing that Holy Spirit will use it to speak to us, pray believing that we have our Heavenly Daddy's ear, worship believing that we are face-to-face with God, and share with others believing that there will be a tangible meeting with Jesus, not a sharing of ideology. More often than not, this is a very real spiritual battle.

Having said that God is always with us, does God often dance tantalising beyond our current grasp? and why? I think a helpful book on the subject is The God Chasers by Tommy Tenney: if catching God is an impossible act, Tenney's passionate heart reveals that being caught by God is the hope.

One final thought. Have you made yourself available to God to intercede for your friend? What did Holy Spirit reveal to you? For example, is your friend in a drawn-out spiritual battle against depression? Even when the natural symptoms are mild, the spiritual nature of depression is like a thick, dark blanket covering our spiritual senses. If this were the case then Satan would love for us to be examining ourselves for flaws, or distorting our picture of God, rather than detecting and kicking one of his agents into touch with prayer. There may not be depression or anything similar, that was just an example, but what is God revealing to you as you pray for your friend?