The Silence of God #1
The Silence of God #1
A couple of years back HBCC hosted the Skeptics of Orange County in friendly debates. One of the attendees was an adult child of a pastor, he no longer believed. He said to me” “Mike, it doesn’t seem like your God does much anymore.” I asked him to explain, and he said: “Well, Jesus healed the sick, made cripples walk, opened the eyes of the blind and raised the dead, walked on water and feed the multitudes and cast our demons. Nowadays, not so much, nowadays, not at all.”
Miracles, we hear a lot about them happening in faraway places. You go to a healing meeting and the back pain gets healed, the neck pain goes away, the knee feels better, but the MS is still crippling, the cancer is still present, and what medical science couldn’t remedy, your last hope, God, didn’t either.
Then you hear the testimony of someone for whom God did the impossible. They were healed from the incurable, the impossible provision came in the nick of time, the money was in the mailbox, the prodigal comes to faith, and the victory is celebrated. You may wonder, what’s wrong with my prayers, what’s the secret, what do I need to do to get the answer I so desperately need, what’s wrong with me?
It is faith-shaking, if not faith-breaking when we call out for God’s help and there’s no help at all. No pony in the living room. The abuse doesn’t stop. The bullies continue to torment. Dad still loses his job. Mom still dies of cancer. The addiction hangs on like a leech. The divorce still happens. Your child dies. Prayer, prayer meetings, and fasting are of no avail. We are going to explore the silence of God, why God often doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we want and what to do when our cries for help are answered in silence.
I don’t think it’s much of a consolation to know this, but you are not alone dealing with heaven’s silence.
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer.
Why have you forsaken me? King David was not the only one who prayed the question. A man dying on a cross prayed the same question. “ELI ELI LEMA SABACHTHANI,” Jesus’ cried from the cross (Mark 15:34; Matt 27:46). Both men, not receiving the answer to the prayer they wanted, both men questioned if God had abandoned them.
Sometimes the prayers of the righteous do not prevail. Sometimes the elder’s prayers, sometimes the anointing with oil, prayers lifted in faith in the name of Jehovah Rapha the God who Heals, sometimes lifted in the name of Jesus with fasting and tears, sometimes all of them together, are of no avail. Sometimes even the Son of God’s prayers is answered with silence. In the silence, there is an indescribable ache, a soul agony so deep that it can bring you to despair.
The love of his life died. From his notes and journals during those horrible days, a book was published called “A Grief Observed.” C.S. Lewis wrote:
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness . . . On the rebound, one passes into tears and pathos. Maudlin tears. I almost prefer the moments of agony. These are at least clean and honest . . .
Meanwhile, where is God?. . When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him . . . if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be – or so it feels – welcomed with open arms. 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 . . .
Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, pp. 7-10).
When you are in the maelstrom, when you are in the most desperate of needs; the most anxious of times; and you call out to God, who is an ever source of help in the day of trouble (Psalm 46:1), and that help doesn’t arrive, the most human of questions is to ask “Why?”
We ask why because we have verses in the scripture that cause us to expect that God will do great things for us.
Exodus 15:26 (NIV)
I am the LORD, who heals you.”
So, we pray for healing for loved ones, for ourselves.
But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.
So, we pray for protection, for ourselves, and our loved ones.
The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.
So, we pray for the battle to be won, for our cause to triumph, for the oppressed to be liberated, and for the helpless to be rescued.
1 John 5:14 (NIV)
“… this is the confidence we have in approaching God: . . . he hears us”
So, we pray knowing that God hears our prayers. The One who loves us, the all-powerful one, the One who can do the impossible hears us when we pray.
1 John 5:15 (NIV)
And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
So, we pray with the sure knowledge that God will come through for us.
I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
So, we pray in Jesus’s name, we pray with faith believing, to make sure our prayers get answered.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Then, in our darkest hour, silence … silence … silence… why?
During each teaching in this series, we are going to briefly consider a list of possible answers to our why question. If one sounds plausible to you, I suggest that you take some time and contemplate the ramifications of that answer. I don’t want to get your hopes up that you will discover an answer. We are just going to go looking at the possibilities.
Why unanswered prayer #1. Perhaps the request defies common sense (Peter Greig, God on Mute, p 111). God does not normally interrupt the natural order of life. There is a terrible joke about a man needing to be rescued from a flood. The warnings came to evacuate but he prayed “Lord, you will save me.” The flood came and a recuse boat came by urging him to get aboard. But the man refused, for he had faith that God would rescue him. The flood waters rose, and the man was now on the roof of his house. A helicopter flew over, and lines were dropped, but the man refused, he trusted the Lord to save him. Suddenly the man found himself soaking wet, spitting water, standing before Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates and he was angry. He demands of Peter: “Why didn’t God rescue me?” To which Peter replies, your faith blinded you to the evacuation notice, the rescue boat, and even the helicopter, that were all sent to rescue you.” In other words, there was an answer to your prayer, but it didn’t come in a form you expected so you didn’t recognize it as such.
Why unanswered prayer #2. Perhaps there are contradictory requests (p.115). “Some prayers aren’t answered because they contradict other prayers” (p. 115). Holy and devout followers of Jesus are rooting for team A, praying their team wins the big game. Holy and devout followers of Jesus are rooting for team B, praying their team wins the big game. It’s not that contradictory prayers negate one another, it's more that God does not intervene in outcomes that have no impact on His desire to reconcile all people to Himself. Could that explain why there is so much suffering and misery in this world, that pain has no impact on God's plan to redeem? Unless, of course, the misery
Why unanswered prayer #3. Perhaps “some prayers aren’t answered because they would be detrimental to the world or the lives of others” (p117). Modern science thrives because the world is well ordered and therefore predictable. Certain things are necessary for other things to happen. You’ve heard of the butterfly effect. This is the thought that a small thing can have a major impact. The butterfly flaps its wings and on the other side of the world, it rains. Is it possible that you do not have your answer because on the scales of bad and good it would be bad not only for you but for others that you don’t even know?
Why unanswered prayer #4. Perhaps it is because we live in a broken world (Romans 8:22). There are consequences of the Fall of Humanity from righteousness that cannot be avoided. Some of these consequences are sickness, suffering, and death. Some are natural disasters. Some are the result of humanity’s rape of the planet’s resources, poisons in our air, our water, and our food. Jesus said, “in this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Somethings will not be fixed, set right, or restored until God visits us with a renewed heaven and earth in the Last Days (Revelations 21:1).
Why unanswered prayer #5. Perhaps “some prayers aren’t answered the way we think they should be because our understanding and expectations of God are misguided” (p.128). When it comes to our understanding of the scripture, we tend to be egocentric. “All the promises in scripture are for me.” That’s not correct. For instance, Jeremiah 29:11 is so often used to bring a sense of security, a sense of hope: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
We read this verse and immediately think that God has an individual detailed plan to prosper our lives. Thus, the oft-spoken words of ill advice: “It’s ok God’s got a plan.” The verse is taken out of context for it is a promise to the nation of Israel, not the individual. The plan is the gospel, salvation by faith in God, the results in obedience to His commands. If we believe the promise is for us the individual when things happen that don’t prosper us, that wages war against our hope, that make our future look grim, our conclusion is God’s plan is no good. So, if you are going to stand on a scripture promise of God, make sure it is a promise to stand upon (Psalm 19:13).
You’ve earnestly prayed but the answer you have requested, the solution you need, the help you desire, is past due. The silence of God causes your heart to ache even more. Have you found any solace or comfort or direction in any of those five “whys” of unanswered prayer? If so, hang on to it, contemplate your answer, and let it draw you ever closer to God. If not, you are still suffering in the silence. Amid silence you have two choices, you can reject God or draw near to God. If you chose to draw near when God is silent, you may discover the empowerment to take your unanswered prayer in stride. You draw near to God as you exercise trust that what you believed in the good times is still true in the difficult times.
Thomas Merton wrote: “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.” When you take the unwanted in stride you find that even though God is silent, He empowers you to keep on keeping one. The silent God gives strength for the day.