Wednesday, 18 January 2017
Breaking the Silence
Silence can be golden, except when we need someone to speak to us. Then it becomes painful. But it’s worse when God is the silent one.
The weeks leading up to Christmas aren’t just busy, they can be poignant with hunger and disappointed hope. Old wounds throb like rheumatism before the rain. The losses of the past year–or the past ten–sting again, as if they’d just happened last week. Happy memories threaten to crush us with nostalgia, while painful ones rise up to mock the incessant jolliness of the season.
Where is God in all of this? Why doesn’t he speak to me? That’s the heart cry I’ve heard recently from:
- a teenager, growing up in the church, whose prayers remain unanswered.
- a mature woman, raised in a family where everyone seems to hear God speak–except her.
- a young woman, facing a career crisis, while God remains mysteriously silent.
Is that your cry today? It’s a good cry, as the Psalms show us.
“O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!” Psalm 83:1
The psalmist breaks the ice for me, reassuring me that I’m not the only one who experiences God’s silence. His prayer also raises three questions in my mind: Why do I expect God to speak? Why is he sometimes silent? When will his silence be broken?
The God Who Speaks
Why do I expect God to speak? Because that’s the kind of God the Bible presents. On the very first page we read “And God said….” We find out that God doesn’t just exist, he speaks. He speaks to create, “Let there be light.” He speaks to define, “God called the light Day…” He speaks to evaluate, “And the Lord saw that it was good.”
And once people are on the scene, he speaks to bless, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” His words aren’t just creative, they are relational. He speaks to us. He spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden when all was well. And after their rebellion he spoke again, not just words of judgment, but words of promise (Genesis 3:15). God’s relationship with humanity could have ended that day, but it didn’t. His spoken promise gave us a future.
In fact biblical history is the record of the God who speaks to us, who is determined to continue his relationship with us despite the terrible rift caused by our rejection of his rule.
Why Is God Silent?
So God speaks. But the Bible also records times when God is silent. Why? There are at least two reasons for his silence–judgment and waiting. The first says “no,” the second, “not yet.”
The silence of judgment. When I’m angry with someone, I give them the silent treatment as a way of withdrawing relationship. God, too, withdraws when his words are repeatedly spurned, except he’s not mood-driven or throwing some kind of divine temper tantrum. He is distancing himself on principle, because the terms of the relationship between a holy God and fallen people matter. Silence is his last resort to bring us to repentance.
That day came in the history of Israel: God announced silence. It was the logical consequence of repeated warnings met with repeated disobedience.
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “When I will send a famine on the land–not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of the hearing the words of the LORD.” Amos 8:11.
After the prophet Malachi spoke his final word to Israel, that announcement was fulfilled. God fell silent.
The silence of waiting. At this point you are probably not encouraged. God is judging me. That’s why he’s silent. I knew it! But don’t despair. Silence was not the last word then, nor will it be now. Israel didn’t know God was going to break his silence at the end of 400 years. When he finally did, he changed the meaning of his silence forever. Looking back we can now see that 400 year period as a temporary silence, not a final judgment. It was a silence of preparation, a silence of getting us ready, a silence of waiting until just the right moment.
It was the dramatic pause before the big reveal.
God broke his silence with an announcement, first in private to Zechariah and Mary, then in a spectacular public display:
And the angel said to them, “Fear not! For behold I bring to you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10
The silence of waiting was over! When God began to speak again, it was to announce salvation, not judgment. Not only that, he was going to keep speaking. Up until now he had spoken through his prophets, but that chapter was over. Now he was going to speak to us through his Son. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
God may have broken the silence of waiting, but what happened to the silence of judgment? Most of us cringe when God is silent in our lives because we think he is judging us. But God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn the world; he sent him to save. (John 3:17). Jesus took our place, as the Father poured out all of his righteous judgment on the Son, including the judgment of his silence.
“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46
Because Jesus took our judgment of silence that day, God’s silence never means judgment to those who have placed their trust in Jesus. It is never the “no” of judgment; it is the “not yet” of waiting.
And while we wait, we can hear him speak a thousand words of promise, hope, comfort, and counsel in the pages of the Bible. That’s because every word he spoke points to Jesus.