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Posts tagged ‘God’s absence’

When God Seems Silent

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

God can be maddeningly hard to get. When God says that his ways are not our ways, he really means it (Isaiah 55:8).

We have these encounters with him where he breaks into our lives with power and answers our prayers and wins our trust and he waters the garden of our faith, making it lush and green.

And then there are these seasons when chaos careens with apparent carelessness through our lives and the world, leaving us shattered. Or an unrelenting darkness descends. Or an arid wind we don’t even understand blows across our spiritual landscape, leaving the crust of our soul cracked and parched. And we cry to God in our confused anguish and he just seems silent. He seems absent.

Singing to the Silence

That’s why tears tend to flow when I listen to Andrew Peterson’s song, “The Silence of God.” I know what Andrew means:

It’s enough to drive a man crazy, it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder, if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the Heaven’s only answer is the silence of God

The same thing happens when I listen to Rich Mullins’s song, “Hard to Get”:

Do you remember when you lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith 
to ask for daily bread?
Did you forget about us 
after you had flown away?
Well I memorized ev’ry word you said. Still I’m so scared I’m holding my breath, 
 While you’re up there
 just playing hard to get

All of God’s saints, if allowed to live long enough, are led into the lonely, disorienting, weary wilderness. And while there, we lament. And since laments are often better sung than said, it’s always been the poets and songwriters who help us most.

Job: “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me.” (Job 30:20)

King David: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1–2)

The Flat Earth and the Absent God

Atheists will tell us that the reason God seems silent is because he’s absent. “No one’s home at that address. Duh.”

In the silent suffering seasons we can be tempted to believe it. Until we step back and take a look and see that existence itself is not silent. It screams God (Romans 1:20). As Parmenides said, and Maria (“Sound of Music”) sang, “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could.”

Believing atheism is like moderns believing in a flat earth. “From where I stand, it doesn’t look like God is there.” Right. And if you only trust your perceptions, the world looks flat. The only reason you know the world is round is because of authoritative scientific revelation and many corroborating testimonies.

What we experience as God’s absence or distance or silence is phenomenological. It’s how we perceive it. It’s how at some point it looks and feels but it isn’t how it is. Just like we can experience the world as flat when we’re walking on a huge spinning ball, we can experience God as absent or distant when “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

In reality, God wasn’t absent or silent or indifferent at all toward Job or King David. It’s just how it felt to them at the time. Nor, in reality, was God silent toward Andrew Peterson or playing hard to get with Rich Mullins. And when we feel forsaken by God we are not forsaken (Hebrews 13:5). We are simply called to trust the promise more than the perception.

Why the Silence?

But why does it need to feel that way? Why the perceived silence? Why can it seem like God is playing hard to get or like he’s just standing there looking at us when we cry to him for help?

I don’t claim to understand all the mysteries of this experience. No doubt we underestimate the effects of remaining sin on us and our need for this discipline in order to share God’s holiness (Hebrews 12:10). But I believe there are clues for another purpose as well. I’ll phrase them as questions.

  • Why is it that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” but “familiarity breeds contempt”?
  • Why is water so much more refreshing when we’re really thirsty?
  • Why am I almost never satisfied with what I have, but always longing for more?
  • Why can the thought of being denied a desire for marriage or children or freedom or some other dream create in us a desperation we previously didn’t have?
  • Why is the pursuit of earthly achievement often more enjoyable than the achievement itself?
  • Why do deprivation, adversity, scarcity, and suffering often produce the best character qualities in us while prosperity, ease, and abundance often produce the worst?

Do you see it? There is a pattern in the design of deprivation: Deprivation draws out desire. Absence heightens desire. And the more heightened the desire, the greater its satisfaction will be. It is the mourning that will know the joy of comfort (Matthew 5:4). It is the hungry and thirsty that will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Longing makes us ask, emptiness makes us seek, silence makes us knock (Luke 11:9).

Deprivation is in the design of this age. We live mainly in the age of anticipation, not gratification. We live in the dim mirror age, not the face-to-face age (1 Corinthians 13:12). The paradox is that what satisfies us most in this age is not what we receive, but what we are promised. The chase is better than the catch in this age because the Catch we’re designed to be satisfied with is in the age to come.

And so Fredrick William Faber wrote in his poem, “The Desire of God”:

Yes, pine for thy God, fainting soul! ever pine;
Oh languish mid all that life brings thee of mirth;
Famished, thirsty, and restless — let such life be thine—
For what sight is to heaven, desire is to earth.

(Thank God for poets and songwriters!)

So you desire God and ask for more of him and what do you get? Stuck in a desert feeling deserted. You feel disoriented and desperate. Don’t despair. The silence, the absence is phenomenological. It’s how it feels, it’s not how it is. You are not alone. God is with you (Psalm 23:4). And he is speaking all the time in the priceless gift of the objective Word so you don’t need to rely on the subjective impressions of your fluctuating emotions.

If desire is to earth what sight is to heaven, then God answers our prayer with more desire. It’s the desert that awakens and sustains desire. It’s the desert that dries up our infatuation with worldliness. And it’s the desert that draws us to the Well of the world to come.

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Do I Thirst for more Thirst for God? I Must!

SOURCE:  Based on an article by Tim Challies

Every soul thirsts. This thirst may not be obvious in every moment, but at some point and to some degree every soul thirsts after something, something it does not have. We are rarely content in our current condition, rarely content just the way we are. But while we all thirst, we do not all thirst in the same way. Donald Whitney’s book Ten Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Healthhas much to say about this. Whitney identifies 3 ways in which our souls thirst.

The Thirst of the Empty Soul

The soul of the unbeliever is empty toward the things of God. Until the Spirit fills the soul with his presence, it is devoid of any love for God. Without God, the unbeliever is constantly looking for something, anything. But he is unable to fill the emptiness. This is something many people do not understand, but something the Bible teaches clearly: While the believer’s soul is empty because he does not know God, he does not and cannot seek to fill it with God. Many people believe that unbelievers are truly seeking after God but unable to find him. The Bible tells us, though, that the empty soul is unable to understand or satisfy this thirst. Not only that, but the empty soul does not want to understand this thirst, and would not, even if it were possible. The empty soul is completely and fully opposed to God; it is deceitful and desperately wicked. As Paul writes in Romans 3:11, quoting David, “no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Psalm 14:2).

Thus the empty soul is left seeking to be satisfied by other things, fleeting things, good things and bad things. It seeks satisfaction in work, family, love, sex, money and everything else the world has to offer. It may seek satisfaction in religion and even the Christian faith, but it never truly seeks God and thus never truly finds him. Until the Holy Spirit enables that soul to understand the source of his thirst and enables him to see the One who can satisfy, he will continue to look in vain. “Just because a man longs for something that can be found in God alone doesn’t mean he’s looking for God,” says Whitney, “Many who claim they are questing for God are not thirsting for God as he has revealed himself in Scripture, but only for God as they want him to be, or a God who will give them what they want.”

The Thirst of the Dry Soul

There is a second type of spiritual thirst, and it is the thirst of the dry soul. This is a thirst that is felt only by those who believe. It does not indicate that he has fallen away from the Lord, but that he is in a dry place spiritually and that his soul is in need of refreshment. There are three ways a Christian can become spiritually arid:

The first is by drinking too deeply from the fountains of the world and too little from the river of God. When a believer drinks too much of what the world has to offer and too little of what God offers, his soul becomes parched. Giving himself over to his sin means he has turned his back on God, even if only for a while. He has allowed his soul to run dry.

The second way a believer can become arid is what the Puritans referred to as “God’s desertions.” There are times in life when God’s presence is very real to and other times where the Christian feels only his absence. The Christian knows that God’s absence is merely a matter of perception and that there is never a time where he actually withdraws. However, there are seasons in which he removes from his children a conscious knowledge of his presence.

The third way a believer becomes arid is fatigue, either mental or physical. Becoming burned-out by the cares and concerns of the world will cause a believer to focus too much on himself, thus turning his thoughts away from God.

The dry soul yearns for God and nothing else will satisfy. This soul has tasted God, it has seen God, and it wants nothing more than to return to being close to him. And when the soul is dry, God is faithful and good to provide the nourishment the soul desires. He fills, he restores and he satisfies.

The Thirst of the Satisfied Soul

The final type of spiritual thirst is the thirst of the satisfied soul. The satisfied soul desires God precisely because he is satisfied in him. There are many biblical examples of this, but perhaps one of the clearest is the apostle Paul who, in Philippians 3, went to great lengths to describe the depth of his relationship with Christ, but then added the words “that I may know him.” His satisfaction in Christ and the deep love and affection he felt for God only stimulated his desire to know him more. Paul wanted nothing more than to know and love God. His satisfaction made him thirsty for more. Thomas Shepard wrote “There is in true grace an infinite circle; a man by thirsting receives, and receiving thirsts for more.” This is not a cycle of frustration, where the Christian continually laments that he does not know more, but a cycle of satisfaction and earnest desire.

So…Thirst!

Let me close with a prayer of A.W. Tozer. “O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made thirsty still.” Amen! It is my desire, and the desire of all who believe and thirst after God, that we may be filled with longing to long after God, and to thirst that we may be thirsty still. God grant that we may be men and women who, being satisfied, thirst for him!

Where Are You, Lord? What’s really going on when God seems absent?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Tom Eisenman

I knew right away that Josh had called with the bad news we’d hoped never to hear: Jada, our 14-month-old granddaughter, had succumbed to the genetic disorder she’d battled so bravely throughout her brief life.

After hanging up the phone, Judie and I were too numb with grief to cry. We just held each other for what seemed an eternity.

That day was the final crushing blow in a long season of trauma and pain. In the months before, we had lost one of our best friends in a tragic automobile accident. The day after his funeral, I received word that my mother had suffered a massive stroke. The following day she was gone. Just prior to these heartbreaking losses, I’d had to resign from a long-term ministry position. Under financial stress, we sold the home we loved; then we were forced to move twice in less than a year. Now our beautiful grandbaby was dead. On occasions, we wondered if our grief would consume us.

This period was also spiritually confusing. Judie and I both struggled to relate to God. At times we felt as if He didn’t care.

“God, where are You?” we’d pray. “What are You doing?”

Too often there would just be silence.

God’s strange absence was one of the most jarring things we’d ever experienced. We were confident God was there. We knew He was at work in our lives. But He was not there and working in the ways we had come to expect.

I remembered at one point how King David had also experienced painful times when God seemed distant to him. We began to take some comfort in knowing we were not the first children of God to endure confusing periods of spiritual darkness.

The 16th-century priest John of the Cross wrote extensively about these wilderness journeys. He called them “dark nights of the soul.” John testified that these prolonged and painful periods of dryness—when received in faith rather than resisted—would eventually result in a truer, more profound intimacy with God.

The Soul at Midnight

If you look for “dark night of the soul” in your concordance, you won’t find it. But even if that phrase doesn’t come directly from the Bible, it’s clear that many people depicted there experienced what I’ve been describing. Few enjoyed as close a relationship with God as David, “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). Yet David often struggled to find God’s presence in the midst of painful circumstances.

In the Psalms we encounter his descriptions of the common dark-night feelings of suffering in isolation, losing one’s bearings, and having no solid place to stand.

 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

—10:1

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.…I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.

—69:1–3

David knew what it’s like to feel God withdraw His presence. Confronted with his sin of adultery and murder, David pleads,

 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

—51:11–12

 Painful, Yet Fruitful

The “willing spirit” David prayed for usually comes at a great price. The Bible makes it absolutely clear that God is for us and that nothing can separate us from His love (Ro. 8:31–39). But God is also deeply committed to our growth. The Scriptures describe three painful processes that God will use—often during dark-night periods—to remove from our lives that which does not honor Him.

Pruning.   Jesus teaches that pruning is at the heart of His Father’s transforming work: “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be more fruitful” (Jn. 15:2). In the California wine country where I live, we constantly see pruning’s effects. Grapevines look like dead stumps after they’ve been pruned. You wouldn’t believe anything good could again come from these gnarly hunks of wood. But by late summer the vines are flourishing, bending low under the weight of a healthy and abundant crop.

Refining. Another process is refining through fire. “See, I have refined you…,” God says. “I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Is. 48:10). And the Apostle Peter, no stranger to suffering, writes,

These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.—1 Pet. 1:7

Shaking. Finally, the writer of Hebrews describes a process of shaking, telling us that God is removing…what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.…For our “God is a consuming fire.”

—Heb. 12:27, 29

At the heart of the dark-night journey is this place of reduction and humiliation where every twig marked “self rule” must be cut off and thrown in the fire. God’s fire burns away deadwood but also refines our characters, drawing the impurities from our souls. And where we have tried to rest our lives on pillars that do not reach bedrock, there will be a shaking, a divine demolition, until only that which cannot be shaken remains. Yet even then God promises,

Fear not, for I have redeemed you.…When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze [or, consume you].—Is. 43:1–2

When we encounter this work of God, we feel lost and out of control. We grope around, trying to find our bearings, confused by the upheaval in our souls. Yet God is profoundly shaping our faith. We are being dismantled at our core, then gracefully reconstructed from the inside out.

Road Signs

It is good to know when you might be entering a dark night. It is a comfort to know that this tough time is a work of God in progress, not some senseless series of ugly events. Here are some signs that I believe can help us recognize when we are experiencing this unique work of God.

A perceived change in God’s presence.  During the painful period Judie and I went through, we experienced God maintaining a more distant posture toward us than we had come to expect. I believe this is a classic sign of a dark night in progress. It can catch us off guard, because the shift will often follow a period during which we have felt close to God, dancing in His blessings. Then life suddenly changes. When we, like David, cry out to the Lord, He can seem unresponsive, indifferent, and aloof.

One subtle but significant clue that this is an authentic dark night is that, even though it appears God might have abandoned us, it’s common to have a still deeper sense that this unusual experience is a work of God. He may be absent in the ways that we have come to expect, but He is present in new ways. A shaking is going on; God is in the shaking.

Diminished ego.  Another clue is when we become aware that our egos are undergoing a major adjustment. The dark-night experience always disempowers us. The manipulative, possessive, controlling self must be broken down.

We may recognize this first in our prayer lives. We do everything we have always done to engage God in prayer, but nothing works. The harder we try to touch the face of God, the more we work at it, the less we seem able to achieve the experience of God for which we long. The key words here are try, work, andachieve. We are learning who is really in control. There is no way we can force God’s presence; it is always a gift.

What starts with prayer often bubbles over into other areas. During dark-night experiences we become keenly aware of our limitations. In this past year of brokenness and searching, I was surprised to find myself slipping at times into thinking the unthinkable: angry thoughts, sexual fantasies, strange doubts, even obsessive ruminating about who I really was. I struggled against temptations I had been certain were dead and gone.

We can begin to wonder whether we’ve really made any progress with God. It feels like regressing. Our Christian self-images may become part of God’s demolition and reconstruction. We may have become too attached to ideas of our effectiveness in religious work or of our strength of character. How quickly pride enters into every area! As God diminishes our egos, a more authentic humility grows in us. When we emerge, we will have new spiritual energy and fresh thinking that could not have come about if we had stayed where we were, with everything organized and securely in place under our old regime.

Distorted images of God.  Another area in which God works involves our worship of false images of Him. A common experience is to realize more fully how self-serving and immature many of our previously held concepts of God have been.

Letting go of favorite images of God is painful and can shatter our comfortable religious world. If we are attentive to God’s work here, the result will be a more authentic relationship with the one true God who has been waiting for us in the darkness from which we have likely been fleeing.

The Apostle Paul experienced this radical religious transformation. Paul was blinded by God on the road to Damascus; that’s darkness. After the return of his sight, believing brothers sent him off to Tarsus for several years of self-imposed exile (Acts 9:1–30). God set Paul aside until his entire set of images of God could be dismantled and then reconstructed on the solid foundation of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone.

Other signs.  In the dark night of the soul, God is teaching us utter dependence upon Him. For this reason, every aspect of our lives that we turn to for fulfillment, satisfaction, or security may be challenged.

Even physical illness or limitation can become part of the dark-night experience. I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s repeated plea for God to remove the thorn in his flesh. Paul finally learned that the thorn kept him from becoming conceited and taught him complete dependence upon the grace of God (2 Cor. 12:7–10).

Often our dark-night experiences will involve some of what Jesus suffered. We may have to endure acts of injustice or betrayal—even by close friends—that can bring profound disillusionment. Experiences such as these deepen our intimacy with the Lord and grow our compassion for what He did for us. A purification takes place when we cannot count on others; we are driven back to the Lord as the true and trustworthy friend.

A Willing Soul

Once we’ve identified what we’re experiencing as a dark night of the soul, the question remains: How do we position ourselves to grow from it? There are some important ways we can cooperate with God during this unique spiritual transition.

Honestly express your emotions to God.  Dark-night seasons are painful and disorienting. We may be hesitant to talk with God about what we’re really feeling, especially what we may be feeling toward Him.But this is no time for pretending. God can handle our honesty. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).

Fight the temptation to run from your distress.  You may have been a goal-oriented, self-assured, and efficient Christian. Now, however, God has allowed a spiritual earthquake to occur. The temptation will be to recreate what you had before, much like the Israelites who wanted to return to slavery in Egypt rather than face future uncertainties with God.

During our recent testing, a wise friend said to me, “Tom, let it burn.” This was solid advice. A dark night is not just some emotional tremor after which you can get back to life as usual. God is transforming your entire being. You will eventually enjoy a whole new way of seeing, believing, and living. Open yourself to the new life the Lord is birthing in you.

Resist trying harder.  God may remove you from activity during the dark night. Perhaps you have been too busy, too results-oriented, too much in control. You have a sense that it is OK to withdraw from previous commitments and involvements. When you finally let go, you may have to battle feeling lazy or guilty. Concerned friends and family may also suggest that you get busy again: “Try harder,” they’ll seem to say, “and you can pull yourself out of this.”

Rushing back into a life of frantic activity, however, is likely the opposite of what God would want you to do. Give yourself space to experience God differently. Rest, solitude, and silence are your best friends.

Seek companions.  All change represents loss. Anytime we experience loss, we enter into grief. The emotions of grieving can include loneliness, self doubt, and anger—even anger at God for seeming inscrutable and uncaring in the face of our agony. This is a good time to reach out to spiritually mature friends who are good and patient listeners. You want people who will hear you without trying to fix you, who will listen long and hard with you for the true voice of God. These caring friends can offer encouragement and perspective as you endure the unpredictable emotions of the dark night.

Be faithful, but release your expectations.  When our experiences of God change, we may become anxious as we desperately seek the touch from God to which we’ve become accustomed. It’s good to remain faithful to our spiritual disciplines, but we need to let go of our expectations regarding how God may or may not respond to us.

Be patient with yourself and with God.  Dark-night periods can last for months, a year, or even longer. The deeper changes at which God may be aiming take time. You may see little progress according to previous patterns of God’s work in your life. This is new territory, new ground being plowed. Wait patiently, and pray for eyes to see inklings of the stronger future God is bringing about.

Call to mind God’s faithfulness.  Even though we’re not sure what God is up to in the present, recalling His provision and leading in the past can steady us in disorienting times. Hold on to the truth you know: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

TOUCHING BEDROCK
The dark night ultimately teaches us that we cannot control God, nor would it benefit us to do so. We need to die to ourselves in order to be transformed into people who can fully participate in the new order the whole creation is groaning toward (Ro. 8:19–22). So we give ourselves wholeheartedly to God who, in His goodness to us, often acts in ways that are surprising and unpredictable.

I’ve come to see, as John of the Cross did, that if we can stay open and spiritually aware during these unusual, searching times we learn truths about ourselves that we might never have discovered while living contentedly within our carefully constructed religious comfort zones.

Many times during our dark period, Judie and I cried out to God in pain, wondering what He was doing. We knew that God was not bringing these calamities into our lives. Nor was He punishing us. But now we see that He was using these hard circumstances to accomplish His deeper work of humility in us.

We had much to learn and to let go of before we could finally and fully rest where we are today: on the solid bedrock of God’s love. Now that we are emerging from this prolonged and painful time, we feel most fortunate. We have gotten all the way down to this richest place, a place where all that’s left is all we will ever need—God’s great faithfulness.

God’s Silence: What Do I Do With It?

SOURCE: Based on an article from Discipleship Journal/Garrett Deweese

Have you ever gone through a time when it seemed you couldn’t hear God—and couldn’t make yourself heard by Him? Why do these “dark nights of the soul” happen? What can you do about them?

OUR FIRST TERM as missionaries in France was hard, as all first terms are for new missionaries. But we had enjoyed a great furlough, and had been refreshed physically and spiritually, and were eager to return to our adopted home and pick up the vital work we had left. We had packed everything except our last suitcases and were nearing the day when we would board the plane for Paris.

We had everything we needed to return, except our French temporary resident visas. The Lord stepped in and kept our visas from arriving, and we had to cancel our airline reservations. The ensuing days, which turned into weeks and finally into months were filled with frustration as we waited for the French diplomatic courier to make his weekly run, only to be told week after week that our visas were not in that pouch.

Those were days spent waiting, looking for reasons, for answers, for clear guidance from God. The frustration of not being able to do anything to hurry the French Foreign Ministry was coupled with the frustration of trying to find something profitable to fill the time, which still could be dropped at once as soon as we were able to leave.

But as I look back, I’d have to say that in all honesty the most difficult part was not the waiting, but the silence of God while we waited.

Yes, the silence of God.

I’m not sure that I ever acknowledged it in so many words—at least during the day. It was at night that the silence weighed so heavily. I would lie awake at night with questions, thinking about my questions and about lying awake.

But it seemed God was somewhere else. To say He is omnipresent, He is everywhere, sounded hollow: He most certainly was not there —where I could hear, sense, or feel Him.

I think my wife shared much the same feelings I had, but we didn’t talk about it in this way. After all, we were missionaries, therefore spiritual. And how could I, as spiritual leader of the family, admit I wasn’t experiencing the presence of God?

Such an admission would fall on evangelical ears as an open confession of sin. For we all know the doctrine that sins breaks our fellowship with God, but confession restores it. I guess unconsciously I dreaded opening myself to Job’s comforters. Obviously I was in sin, and God was withholding the visas until I got my life straightened out. And as for the “silence of God,” it was really the “stubbornness of Garry,” and if I’d confess, the silence would be broken with words of forgiveness and acceptance.

I did examine my life at that time, and soberly concluded that there was no known unconfessed sin which was responsible for the experience.

EVERY DAY ISN’T SWEETER

At that time I had never heard anyone talk about experiencing the feeling that God was silent. But as I read the Bible—especially the Psalms—I am convinced that it is not uncommon for believers to pass through such experiences.

And I’m equally convinced that many who will read this have experienced the silence of God—or are experiencing it right now. You may not have called it that, but if you’re honest you will identify with what I’m describing.

The Bible is totally honest, but we have created a false standard in our evangelical circles that keeps us from being so. Afraid to admit what we see as a failure, we smile and sing, “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before,” and all the while we’re empty, groping, bewildered.

In the last scene of the last act of King Lear, after death, madness, and the storm have swallowed the noble as well as the evil characters, Shakespeare has a broken but surviving Edgar bring down the final curtain with these words: “The weight of this sad time we must obey / Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

We would probably all be healthier mentally if we made it a habit to speak what we feel, not what we think we ought to say, in sad times, in hard times, in times of heartbreaking grief or stomach-wrenching fear, as well as in times of bubbling joy and richly satisfying peace. We’ve fallen out of the habit of truthfulness and are mired in the fear of other Christians’ reactions. Afraid of saying something we ought not to say, we skirt truthful acknowledgement of our deep feelings when we speak what we think we ought to say.

But in Ps. 13—and in a good many others as well—David candidly revealed his deepest feelings. David, the man after God’s own heart, in a piece of poetry inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself, admits his own experience of the silence of God.

BE HONEST WITH FEELINGS

Just here, I think, is where we must begin in understanding, enduring, and surmounting this experience in our own lives. We need to confront and acknowledge our feelings honestly.

Psychologists and counselors tell us that unacknowledged and therefore unresolved feelings lie at the heart of a vast array of behavioral problems, even among Christians. But the scriptural examples teach us to confront honestly how we feel. We see Elijah crushed in self-pity and despair. We hear Jonah lash out in anger at God. Habakkuk expresses impatience, Jeremiah grieves over his city, and Hosea’s heart breaks over his wife’s unfaithfulness.

Acknowledging how we feel, then, is not wrong. It is the place to start.

“But,” you might object, “what if I am bitter, jealous, angry with God?” Those may be unhelpful feelings leading to wrong behavior, but until we’re willing to admit we feel them, we cannot deal with them and we run the risk that suppressing those feelings will do even more damage, possibly resulting in mental and behavioral dysfunctions.

So the first step in dealing with the experience of the silence of God is to acknowledge it. This David does in Ps. 13:1-2

PSALM 13

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How tong must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I foil.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

The four-time repeated cry, “How long?” shows us the depth of David’s feelings. It seemed God had forgotten—abandoned— him. The experience of God’s presence was far from David’s life. He lay in bed with only his thoughts to wrestle with, and the lack of spiritual victory in his life led David to believe, whether literally or figuratively, that his enemy gloated in his defeat.

This is the experience of God’s silence. Not the self-imposed exile of unconfessed sin. Not simply the feeling of lack of guidance; not even the experience of waiting months or even years before seeing a specific prayer answered. No, this is the feeling that God is totally absent from all areas of your life. Your prayers bounce off the ceiling and fall impotently on the floor. You force yourself to read the Bible, but it is about as meaningful and relevant as a three-month-old issue of Newsweek in the doctor’s waiting room. Christian music seems like insipid platitudes; Christian books like so much pabulum, and Christian fellowship about as helpful as a convention of mannequins.

It feels better during the day, although it seems as though a dusty pall has settled over everything, dulling colors and dimming the sun. At night, wrestling with your thoughts, the silence of God is so real it aches and sleep comes hard. It feels like a vast sorrow with no cause, a deep fear of an unknown threat. And all we can do is cry, “How long?”

C.S. Lewis married late in life, and after just a couple of years his wife Joy died of cancer. Her death plunged Lewis deep into grief, and during those days he kept a brutally honest record of his thoughts and feelings. That journal, published under the title A Grief Observed, records Lewis’s experience of the silence of God:

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, 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 . . .. Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?1

This is the same question reflected in the title of Philip Yancey’s excellent book, Where is God When it Hurts?2 The experience of the silence of God is not unique to us. Others—giants of the faith—have stood here before us. And so the first step to take in dealing with the experience is to acknowledge it.

KEEP ON PRAYING

In verses 3 and 4 we see David making a specific request to God:

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

“Look on me, answer me,” he pleads. In this idiom David asks that God take care of him, and do it in such a way that David can see evidence of that care. David offers two reasons for his request: First, he is so depressed in the silence that he feels sick unto death. Second, David fears his enemy’s exultant claims of victory, the dreaded sound, “I told you so!”

David’s prayer—look on me and answer—is not very specific as prayers go. But in it we can see a second phase of response to the situation. If the first thing we must do to work through the experience of the silence of God is to admit it honestly, the second thing is to keep on praying. Even when it seems futile, even when it seems our prayers hang limp in the stale air around us, never coming close to heaven, even then we must go on, continue to pray. Pray without ceasing, Paul said, not just when you feel like it (1 Thess. 5:17).

We must keep asking God to make Himself real in our experience, to meet us in our need. No need for oratorical excellence in this prayer—anguished honesty is more eloquent. What we need is to feel God Himself really present in our lives, not some sanitized Sunday school-booklet portrait of Him. As Frederick Buechner says in his excellent book Telling the Truth, “It is out of the absence of God that God makes himself present . . .. God himself does not give answers. He gives himself.”3 And so even in the awful silence we must continue to pray.

REASSERT FAITH

The last two verses of the Psalm take us one step further. In these verses David reasserts his faith:

But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,

For he has been good to me.

If the first two stanzas of the Psalm are spoken through clenched teeth and salty tears, in this final stanza the shadow of a smile flickers. Silence isn’t yet turned to symphony; the joy of full fellowship with God isn’t yet restored. But in reasserting his faith David finds the strength to get up and face just one more day.

David’s expression of faith rests on two pillars: God’s unfailing love, and David’s past experience of God’s goodness. He knows God’s love is loyal, always faithful. He would nod agreement to Paul’s conclusion that nothing in all creation “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro. 8:39).

And he can remember many times in the past when the goodness of God was overwhelmingly real. And so David proclaims his joy in God’s salvation—an expression that I believe refers to the deliverance God will yet bring to David. He knows the silence of God won’t last forever, and so answers his own question of verse one. God will deliver him because He loves him and has been good to him in the past. Based on this faith, David will yet sing to the Lord. Not just now, maybe, but someday. Silence will be turned to song.

LOOK TO A HIDDEN REALITY

Now this might easily be dismissed as a shallow appeal to the power of positive thinking. It might be, that is, if it were not true.

Just because David feels abandoned does not mean God is not really there. Just because he cannot hear God’s voice does not mean he will never hear it again, or that he is not even now speaking, or that help is not already on the way. It may be that concentrating on statements of trust in God’s love and goodness is the power of positive thinking, but it will keep us from surrendering to the power of negative thinking.4

In the last stanza of Ps. 13, then, on the basis of his faith, David asserts that what he feels, real though those feelings are to him, is not really the way things are. And we must say the same. Yes, we must confront and acknowledge our feelings. But then we must lay those feelings alongside reality and see how they measure up. You see, if you have made a faith commitment to God, you have faith in His love and have seen His goodness to you in the past. And so in spite of how you feel, you know God will bring deliverance.

Thinking back on my experience of God’s silence while waiting for those visas, I believe the feelings lasted eight to ten weeks. I went that long living, so it felt, in a vacuum. I came to church, smiled, even preached. But one day my wife and I left the children with some friends and drove up in the mountains to talk and pray. And when we returned, God had spoken. I can’t really say He broke His silence; rather, He broke into my silence. By opening our eyes to certain, particular needs of our own family, God made it quite clear that we should not return to France.

Maybe I had not been ready to hear that word two months earlier. Certainly it brought some disappointments and regrets. We had worked hard learning the language and the culture, and now would not use those skills. We had made plans that now we would never see fulfilled. We had developed relationships that now we could never continue. But in that time, God’s grace and peace were real. He was again there for me. And out of the experience we gained a deeper understanding of God.

Right now are you perhaps feeling the silence of God in your life? You might be in circumstances where you deeply need God, but just can’t seem to feel Him in your life. Perhaps you’ve lost a job, or lost a loved one through death. Perhaps the anguish has been brought on by a total inability to communicate with your spouse or your children. It might be caused by physical pain, or doubts, or unjustified personal attacks. And just when you need God the most, He seems most absent from your life.

Don’t yield to despair. Others have been there before you. You need not let that feeling of abandonment lead you down the wrong path. You could, you see, try one of many ways of covering up for the silence of God in our lives. You could try to mask the silence through a frantic pace at work, or a whirlwind social schedule, as if being active and surrounded by people can fill the void left by the absence of God. You might hide behind overeating, or perhaps overexercising. You could seek escape through drinking or drugs, or the enticing finality of the escape offered in a handful of pills.

But that doesn’t have to be your pathway. Keep praying. Even if you feel it’s doing no good, keep it up. And then in faith reflect on God’s unfailing love and all the ways that His goodness has enriched your life in the past. Have confidence based on that faith that He will bring deliverance to you. Remember, it’s out of God’s absence that God makes Himself present.

Wait patiently in faith for that new, deeper experience of God Himself that will be yours when the silence is broken. David’s pathway led not to despair, but back to joy and song.

Yours can, too.

1. C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: Bantam, 1961), pp. 4-5.
2. Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977).
3. Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977), p.43.
4. See Job 23:8-12 for another clear biblica example of a man who, even while agonizing over the silence of God in his experience, still reaffirmed his faith.  Paul puts this idea of “positive thinking” on a doctrinal level in Phil. 4:4-9.

The Darkness Of Night Is Followed By The Morning

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Charles Stanley

Just as Christ once rested in the stern of a boat through a raging storm, He rested in the tomb as storms raged within His disciples. A day after Jesus’ death, fear, doubt, and grief must have cycled endlessly through their minds. Memories of their lives with Him must have played there too: how it felt to stand upon a rolling sea, to feed thousands with a few loaves of bread, or to see Lazarus’ burial clothes heaped in the dirt. No doubt their hearts grew sick with confusion as they contemplated these things.

The disciples’ feeble faith shouldn’t surprise us, because if we’re honest, we see it in ourselves. The “little of faith,” as Jesus often called them, failed to believe or remember things the Lord said of Himself—that He’d lay down His life and take it up again. Had His followers faithfully held these things in their hearts, that Sabbath day might have been a time of joyful anticipation.

At times in our lives, God may seem absent, but ultimately we know that He will never leave us (Heb. 13:5). And unlike the disciples, we’ll never experience the dark prospect of a failed Savior. But many times we forget the promises of God. In the face of uncertainty, how frequently do we turn to a “do-it-yourself” Christianity to fix our problems?

Too often we look no further than our own solutions, when what we need is the wonder-working power of Christ’s resurrection and a posture of humility as we wait on Him. If we are willing to wait through the darkness of night, we can rest in knowing that morning will surely come.

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