A while ago, I was texting this guy. So begins many a teenage girl’s story. I’d asked a question, and I was waiting for his response. After thirty minutes, I began to worry. After several hours, I’d made a list of all the semi-reasonable possibilities for why he hadn’t replied. Maybe he was ignoring me. Maybe I’d made him angry. Or, now that I think of it, he could have briefly been abducted by aliens. With guys, you never know. I waited exactly 24 hours before texting him: Hey did you get my last message?
He replied with a screen shot of my unanswered message. You mean this one?
When someone just stops replying, it bothers me. Particularly when it’s a guy, but we’re not going to talk about that.
Silence is uncomfortable.
(10 second pause)
And oftentimes awkward.
We don’t often get even a moment of silent in the physical world. In the spiritual world however, silence feels commonplace. People have offered all sorts of explanations for this, but—wait a second—why does God need people to make excuses for Him in the first place? The silence of God has often confused me, but more than that, it’s made me feel alone and unloved when I’m not. Today, I’m going to share a few things that I’ve learned about God’s silence by comparing our perception to His actual character: first, when we hear silence, but He’s speaking, second, when we think He’s random, but He’s purposeful, and finally, when we feel He’s apathetic, but He cares. So is God silent as often as we think He is?
To answer this question, we’re going to have to step back into spring 2015, when my family was moving for the 10th time, and I was not taking it well. I had only two school years until college, and if I wanted to have friends in high school, I didn’t have time to be shy. I decided I had to be more outgoing than I’d ever been.
So I was reading books on relationships when I was reminded of one of our most valuable social tools: listening.
I began spending more time asking questions than I did talking about myself. One of my friends has actually described me as a “walking survey.”
Okay, so we know we should listen to others, so why don’t we apply this where God is concerned?
And I’m sure we’ve all done our fair share of praying, but how often do we listen?
1 Kings 19:11-12 says, “And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.”
My mom tells me that if you want to hear a whisper, you gotta be quieter than the whisper.
So God isn’t always silent; sometimes, we’re just not listening.
Okay, but what if you are listening? You’ve been having quiet time, digging through your bible, but have nothing to show for it. This is often when we start doubting. I know God can answer prayers, so why doesn’t He? Does He just not feel like it? Or what if I don’t have enough faith for this prayer to work?
You know, I remember when I was little, I had a lot of faith in the power of prayer, partially thanks to Dora the Explorer
I’d set a picture book on the floor, and I’d convinced my little brother that if we prayed hard enough and jumped onto the book, we could go into the book world, just like Dora did when she jumped on books. “Dear God, please help us go into the book when we jump on it. Amen. Ready. Set. Go! Okay, you know what, that’s okay. I know what we have to do; we have to pray harder.” Needless to say, my childhood dreams were crushed along with the book spine.
It’s possible your prayer was flawed but what if your prayer were perfectly legitimate? If you’re a parent, maybe it’s along the lines of what do I do with this child? Or if you’re my age, God, what am I supposed to do with my life? Why would God leave us stuck in our indecision when we desire to follow Him?
So you probably an awkward paused a few minutes ago. That pause has actually been there since the very first draft of my speech. I wasn’t silent for the fun of it. I was silence because my silence had a purpose.
You know, we might not always get a “why” behind God’s silence, but just know that He does it with intention, which means that God isn’t silent because He’s random. He’s silent because He’s purposeful.
So now you know that God isn’t ignoring you by accident; He’s ignoring you on purpose! (fist pump) Well, if it’s not by accident, then maybe God doesn’t care.
This actually became a problem while writing this speech. Sometimes, God will just smite me with inspiration, but this time, I was really struggling to find the right thesis. Before that, I was kind of panicking, which is what I usually do when I’m waiting on God.
I mean, have you ever tried to give God a deadline? “God, I need an answer by this date, preferably carved into the sky. With lightning.”
I have these life-altering questions that I would love for God to answer, so why doesn’t He?
I believe the best example of this is a trust exercise. Last school year, I participated in my first one. I was with some friends outdoors in our hangout spot we called “Narnia.” When it was my turn to do the trust fall, I stood at the end of this big wooden table with my back to the drop off. I leaned back, and as I fell, panic gripped me. And then it stopped. My friends had caught me.
Relationships are all about trust.
Author Michael J Herbert says, “A relationship without trust is like a car without gas.
You can stay in it all you want, but it won’t go anywhere.”
God wants a relationship with us, because He cares. He knows about all your crises, decisions, deadlines. His silence tests us to see if we truly trust Him to solve our problems, even when there are no miracles in sight.
Some would say, “Well, that’s really quite selfish of God, to put us through all of this pain, just so He can have the relationship He wants.”
Of course God wants a relationship with us. But the thing is we need one with Him. God is actually more aware of our need for Him than we are. Now, God could just make us run to Him, but then it wouldn’t be our choice. Instead, God uses every opportunity, including His own silence, to encourage us to go to Him.
So finally: God is silent, not because He’s apathetic, but because He cares.
We believe God is silent when He’s speaking, we believe He’s random when He’s purposeful, and we believe He’s apathetic when He cares. So if it seems like God’s involved at times and distant at others, it’s not God who’s changing. It’s you. In fact, what we think of God says more about us than it does Him.
That guy who didn’t reply to my text wasn’t silent because he was ignoring me, angry, or abducted by aliens. He’s a good person, yet when he became silent, I assumed things about his character that went against what I knew. How often do we do the same with God?
And quite frankly, to this day, I have no idea why that guy didn’t reply, but I can still trust that he’s a good guy. Sometimes, I can kind of see glimpses of what God’s doing, but most of the time, I don’t understand, but I can still trust Him.
So in the end, we’re left with two options: we can either choose to have faith in His character or we can doubt what we know. Before I end this speech and shake your hands, I have a quote to share with you, a quote that was found written during the Holocaust, during a time when there was no better excuse to feel alone and unloved by God:
“I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love, even when I cannot feel it.
And I believe in God, even when He is silent.”