When God is silent

Chapter 3

Good Monday Morning to this week 4 of 2020

“Our God comes, he does not keep silence” (Psalm 50,3). That is a core sentence of the Bible. God can only be God for us because God is not silent? Is a speechless God not a God in the sense of the Bible? Many frustrated Christians confirm this in their own way; Since they no longer hear God, God does not exist anymore for them.

Mother Teresa spent 40 years in spiritual darkness. Abraham, the father of our faith, spent 13 years without any communication from God, yet his faith only grew stronger.
St. Ignatius of Loyola experienced so much of this spiritual emptiness that he wrote the famous “Spiritual Exercises,” with guidelines on what to do in these two states. Jurell Sison writes on the Ignatian prayer:

When in silent prayer, I get an overwhelming feeling that I am not in charge. While that sounds cliché, it seems to me that this simple mindset is the remedy to my stress, heartache, and anxiety. Day to day I get tricked into believing that my daily tasks, obstacles, and struggles are bigger than they are. Some days I even feel cheated that people don’t recognize them or validate them, but my prayer puts things into the proper perspective. I get a profound sense that God is in charge and that life is mysterious. And no matter what struggles come my way, God has a way to redeem them. I like to think that I trust God, but silence helps me to live that trust.

Marc Batko translated an essay by a German theologian, Wolf Krötke, a prominent Protestant theologian from Eastern Germany, whose work is known far too little in the English-speaking world. Krötke demonstrates how, taking seriously a world that has grown forgetful of God, recommends not retreat into vague religiosity or spirituality, but rather attention to the concrete possibilities for human freedom and faithfulness that the Christian gospel itself sets forth.

God’s silence is not entirely harmless. Whoever does not hear God is not simply free of God!  Even atheists become irritated when they are called “godless.” No one likes to hear this. That “godless” has this sound for real blasphemers is strange. Our language presumably transports something owed to a biblical experience.

The God who by nature is not silent is silent! When this happens, people are spit out, left without any goodness, hopelessly alone and miserable. “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold thy peace or be still,” implores another biblical praying person (Psalm 83,2). When God is silent, the power supply of his spirit and life is missing from our life. Other voices and other powers then fill the empty spaces of God’s silence.

All people do not regard this as terrible. The godless type is repeatedly encountered in the psalms as a careless person who likes God’s silence. “Nothing is lacking to me,” exclaims the confessionless person of today who shuts the door on visitors from the community. Since he never hears God speak, he does not notice when God is silent. Isn’t he better off than those tormented by God’s silence since they have good experiences of God speaking?

We must take this question seriously in a time when God means nothing for so many people. Whoever would open ears and hearts for God’s speaking,  tells them the reason for deaf ears and closed hearts is that God is silent? All who believe have had this experience. In faith in Jesus, it is engraved with the cry of the dying Jesus. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – this is the desperate complaint of the person through whom God’s love spoke like no other!  With the words of Psalm 22, he joined with all the complaints of people about God’s silence. He anticipated something that could not be ignored. Too many after him, that was  also their ultimate question in their life.

God is silent – that is the experience of believers open for God in the discipleship of Jesus. We may not misunderstand this as insensitiveness for God to which people become accustomed to, voluntarily chosen, distance from God. In such a distance from God, people can be as sealed with concrete walls from God. The Christian community with its testimony of God’s speaking can and should shake these walls.

God’s silence hurts. It sets in like a mysterious wall before us and in us when God’s speaking is necessary. Hope and vigor are taken, gratitude that they are alive is driven out of persons plagued by sickness. Here there isn’t an atheist or Christian, religious or not religious. Everyone knows the experience “when we are in extreme distress” and God is silent. How do we still speak of God in such situations?

When God is silent, it seems as if God is uncommunicative or closed for us. This can only result in also our growing silence. Whoever is struck with suffering or tries to help other sufferers experiences this directly. The word “God” becomes like heavy in our mouths and hearts.

Yet, there are other times when we can only be silent with God. Communities that rediscover the old practice of Easter night have this experience.

On this night, something else comes into play than the mysterious abyss of God’s silence. In the experience of the Easter night, we notice something like God’s own deep affliction from the pain of Jesus Christ and from the suffering of his creatures. Far away from Golgotha, it is nearly impossible to understand God’s silence as enduring pains that make us speechless.

Good Friday teaches us that God is with us even in his silence. As he touches us with his silence, he bears with us the heavy experiences we make when he is silent. In all their gravity, such experiences stop being the ultimate experiences that imprison us in a distance from God and silence.  No, on the contrary,  they open the communication to hearing the words of God’s love in his silence.

Wishing you a blessed week.

Philemon