It is not often believers find themselves in an unsolvable, or near-unsolvable quandary, especially one of deep spiritual significance, but alas, it happens, and we are forced to twist, and turn, and sometimes complain, until we figure it out.
People talk, preach and write rather glibly about God's silence, and what to do when God is silent, and we have witnessed some who dare to tell God when He should, and should not, be silent. It is one think to respectfully inquire, and to observe, some characteristic or action of Almighty God, but quite another to pretend, that we somehow know, what it's all about.
In a recent article, I wrote this: "It seems your prayers are having no effect; your pleas for God to act on your behalf, to come to your rescue, to act powerfully and quickly are to no avail. How can God stand by and see you being trampled, ground into the dust, and do nothing?"
Many good people have complained to God, about this deafening silence.
Job certainly did, he thought what was happening to him was unjust and uncalled for, and although he was not blaming God, nevertheless he had something to say about this. "I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me not." (Job 30:20)
King David did exactly that too, and as we know David was very vocal. Here is what he said: "O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent." (Psalm 22:2)
You are my helper, you are my God, I am in trouble, I called you and ...nothing.
Put another way, how can God not respond immediately, or in any case timely, when He is so badly needed to assist his children? Would any parent, seeing his child in a desperate, deadly situation not act, providing he could do so, to extricate or protect his child.
Let us go further and complicate the matter at hand. Most times when God is silent it might involve desperate, but not life-threatening circumstances. If God is thus silent, then we suffer a bit, but later we can rationalise, and thank God, for bringing us through.
But it is not always so.
I offer as evidence, none other than the greatest man that ever lived, John the Baptist, and here is how Jesus described him, "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matthew 11:11)
Did John the Baptist cry to God, on hearing the news, that he was to be wantonly executed? Did he express confidence that God, whom he served, would deliver him; even as He did Daniel from the lions' den, and the three Hebrew Boys out of the fiery furnace?
We do not know, but it would be reasonable to expect that any believer, in that position, would do some praying. John the Baptist was a young man, and in any case he was doing great work for God, and could look forward to years of fruitful ministry. So, is it not puzzling that God was silent in this situation?
The truth is, that we are serving an awesome God, and this awesomeness can be seen by a number of amazing acts, that have astounded the world for generations. Whenever due credit is given to Almighty God for what He has done, the result is nothing short of breathtaking, majestic wonder.
But in some ways God's awesomeness is just as pronounced, and magnificent, in many compelling situations when He does not act and remain silent.
For example. When the wicked Herod, through wholesale terror, killed all the babies two years old and under, as recorded in Matthew 2:16-18, God instructed Jesus' parents to run to Egypt to save Jesus' life (Matthew 2:13). Here was a grand opportunity for God to avenge himself on the extremely perverted and despicable Herod, but He did not. There is just one word for this awesome.
Another example will suffice. We know well the story of Jesus' crucifixion, but do we fully appreciate the horrendous suffering he went through for us? At the height of his suffering Jesus cried, "...My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46), and from God Almighty there was nothing but silence. Truly awesome. And even after the crucifixion, with violent earthquakes and lightening, not a single person was killed or injured. That was, truly, unbelievably awesome.
God's silence is awesome for some compelling reasons, even if we are unfamiliar with those reasons, and the key is to have the right attitude and be trustful, and confident, in Almighty God.
We should note that God's silence carries with it neither disapproval or approval for what is, or about, to happen, or for the request made, or for the unfolding circumstances.
People are fond of ascribing motives to God's silence, of implying why God did not act in a given situation. Rarely are they right, although they convince themselves that they are.
Take the case of John the Baptist just mentioned. Some would say that he was a good man and God should not have let him die. True, he was a very good man, an indispensable figure at the commencement of Jesus' ministry, but John had completed his earthly assignment, and God saw it was the best moment for John to enter eternity. I very much doubt if John suffered any pain, and in a flash he was gone.
But if you think about it, if God had broken His silence and intervened, not just for John but every unmerited execution, then we would never have a Christian martyr. Every Christian martyr suffered an untimely and cruel death, but all in the service of establishing and perfecting God's earthly kingdom. If this is what God is about then the perfect, sinless Christ could not have been crucified. And where would we be today? Would it have been better for God to rescue Christ from his crucifixion and the whole world lost to perdition? I think not.
Because God is awesome, He takes the things that are mind boggling to us, the things we regard as ridiculous, and even things we consider as absurd, and He corrals them and makes them serve his greater purpose.
This baffles us for sure, and we become uncomfortable trying to figure it out. This is as it should be, and Paul with deep spiritual perception said this, "But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are." (1 Corinthians 1:27-28)
The reason Almighty God acts in this manner, is that He retains for himself, the deepest councils of the Almighty. This is so that no one, in heaven or on earth, can presume on God's sovereignty, or as Paul puts it, "That no flesh should glory in his presence." (1 Corinthians 1:29)
When God is silent, it is presumptuous to interpret that silence either as being for or against, but it is most honourable to trust God and be silent. There are times when God requires you to be silent, take no action, do nothing until instructed, and be mindful of the value of such.
We should also note that God's silence is awesome because it is powerfully enabling.
There is a story told about a man who lost his valuable watch in an ice house. All of his fellow workers diligently searched the ice house looking for the watch. They combed every inch of it, but they couldn't find it. A little boy, hearing about their search, slipped into the ice house and quickly emerged with the watch. All of the men were amazed and they said, "How did you find it?" And he said, " Well I simply went to the ice house, closed the door, lay down quietly on the floor, and then I began to listen. After a while, I could hear the tick, tick, tick of the watch."
People generally hate silence, some find silence intimidating, and some will put the television, or radio, on all day if they are at home alone, so that there is noise around.
Believers must understand that noise can prevent the enabling that God intends for us. Paul was aware of this and exalts us like this, "And that ye study to be quiet..." (1 Thessalonians 4:11). And we have this wonderful scripture to remind us, "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)
It is through silence and reflection that we understand and appreciate that God's will is done by a mixture of positives and positives, good and bad, and all will inexorably testify forever that God is sovereign.
What to do when God is silent is best answered by the supreme example of Jesus Christ. When Almighty God was silent in the face of severe suffering of Jesus Christ, and Jesus agonized, "...My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46), the Bible tells us what Jesus did.
Jesus prayed, "...nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:42)
All believers, everywhere, should follow Jesus' example; acknowledge that God is sovereign, bless His name, and ask that HIS WILL BE DONE. And as before, walk in the steps God has laid out for you, remembering always that, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way." (Psalm 37:23)
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013