Friday, November 19, 2010

When God is Silent

Title: When God is Silent
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 18 November 2010

MAIN IDEA: What should we do when God appears to be silent? Why does He not speak when our heart is troubled? God speaks in the silence. When we talk constantly, how can we then listen intently? It is more important that we listen before we speak. Prayer involves listening to God, especially in silence.

O To Thee, O LORD, I call; My Rock, do not be deaf to me. Lest, if Thou be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.” (Ps 28:1)

We press the play button on our iPods. When there is no sound, we fiddle with the switches, pull our earphones, and check the player. We get flustered by the non-response.

We place a phone call to a customer service agent. After three rings, when there is no answer, we can get upset with the inadequate customer service.

We try to send an email. If there is no Internet connection, nothing is ever sent. We will then check our computers. We modify our system settings. In some cases, we reboot our computers. If there is still no response, we get irritated.

What about pressing a prayer request to God, placing a desperate call to heaven, or sending an urgent message to the King of kings? What if there is no answer? Amid the frantic calls and pleas, what if the only sound from the celestial end seems to be silence and more silence?

1) Slighted by Silence

Interestingly, during moments of need and despair, we tend to rush God into doing something about it. When life is cruising along, we have a greater capacity to wait as we busy ourselves with our routines, programs and things to do. However, when a crisis hits home, we scramble to press the GOD-button for quick answers. We raise questions like:

  • “Why does God allow evil to happen?”
  • “Why must this man suffer?
  • “Why is such pain happening right now?”
  • “Why me!!!!”
This is a common human reaction in response to trials and tribulations. We have been so conditioned in solving problems, that the moment a problem cannot be fixed, our world rocks with confusion and despair. Pain and suffering is not a problem that can be fixed.

2) Trapped in a Problem-Solution World

We seek answers in a world of problems and issues. When we get sick (the problem), we see the doctor to get some medication (solution). When we get hungry (the problem), we buy food to eat (the solution). When our wallet is empty (the problem), we go to the bank to get some cash or to borrow some money from a friend (the solution). When we get a headache (the problem), we pop in some aspirin to relieve it (the solution). When our plans fail (the problem), we seek alternative methods (the solution). When we suffer, our paradigm of ‘problem-solution’ gets shaken up. We struggle because there is no ‘solution’ that can explain away our pain and suffering.
Does this pill exist?

These ‘problem-solution’ paradigms appear logical and necessary. Until we encounter a problem that has no easy solutions. Until we realize that we are helpless in ourselves. Until we recognize that we are not masters of the universe; we will remain frustrated, discontent and depressed.

Is there a solution to death? Is there an antidote for incurable types of cancer? Is there a way to recover spilt milk or a shattered glass plate? Is there a time machine that can turn back or alter history? No. Nay. Nought. Zero. Only Silence. Briefly put, a pill to answer pain and suffering simply does not exist!

3) Unrequited in Silence

This problem of silence is particularly hard on believers who honestly and earnestly believe. They have the faith to pray and to hope. They have the courage to give and to love. Yet, bad things do happen to them. The tormented man shouts:

I pray faithfully. I tithe regularly, and I perform my duties without complaints. Why then must this setback happen to me!”

I feel for him as he struggles with the unanswered question. Along with unanswered prayer, unrequited or un-reciprocated deeds are hard to explain.

Sometime ago, I remember hearing some people praying intensely for healing of a loved one. I do not doubt their faith. Neither do I suspect their earnestness. My main discomfort is in the way they try to ‘force’ God’s Hand. When anyone prays as if God HAS no other choice but to answer their prayers according to their way, arrogance and worldliness has entered. Unwittingly, such prayers for a specific way for God to answer try to lock God into a single method. It streamlines the God of infinite strategies into a single man-made technique.

4) Invited to Listen in to the Silence

I like to suggest that when we encounter pain or suffering, to first jump out of the problem-solving box. then, ease into the world of silence. When we get rid of the noises generated by the world, we become more conscious of the soothing whispers from heaven. We begin to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit. We remove our proud “I can solve it” stance, and put on a humble “God will handle it” attitude.

There is a story of a man driving a jeep in a jungle terrain. The powerful four-wheeler can overcome all kinds of obstacles. It runs over rocks and tree branches. It drives easily over puddles of water. It even climbs the steepest hills without any huffing or puffing. It meets its match eventually, when it encounters soft muddy soil. As the wheels grind away, the driver prays for more power in the wheels. He floors the accelerator. He spins the wheels to release all its ferocious power. Instead, the powerful jeep digs deeper into the mud. The more the jeep is forced to move horizontally, the more it sinks vertically into the mud trap.

Sometimes, I feel that when we pray arrogantly, to insist that God answer our prayers according to our ways, it is like trying to use God’s power (extra horsepower to the engine) to deliver ourselves from the muddy ground (through sheer brute force). The end result is that we sink deeper and deeper into the trap, thanks to our stubborness.

Suppose for instance, we pray for wisdom from the Lord. We ease the jeep by slightly orientating the wheel. We get out of the vehicle and carefully put rubber mats or planks at each of the four wheels stuck in the mud. Then, we release the jeep to do its work. We will overcome the mud.

When we expect God to answer our prayers in our way, we are not longer praying. We are simply ordering God like a heavenly servant to serve our needs. True prayer involves both surrender and submission. We surrender to God as the Overall in Charge. We submit to God for the fulfilment of God’s will according to God’s time. Sometimes, in the midst of silence, God speaks to trigger us to open ourselves to other ways, especially God’s.

5) Facing Pain

One more thing. In many approaches to pain and suffering, the frustrations at God’s apparent silence stems from a perilous desire to run away from the pain and suffering. When we seek answers to such pain, it is an indirect way of running away rather than facing pain head on. One of my favourite authors says it so well.

There will always be people who run from every kind of pain and suffering, just as there will always be religions that promise to put them to sleep. For those willing to stay awake, pain remains a reliable altar in the world, a place to discover that a life can be as full of meaning as it is of hurt. The two have never cancelled each other out and I doubt they ever will, at least not until each of us – or all of us together – find the way through.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009, p173)

Encountering pain and suffering is part of being human. We can run away from some, but not all of them. A life that frankly acknowledges the presence of pain and suffering, is far more meaningful than a life that constantly runs away from them. Such meaning is best discovered as we sit with God in a world of silence. In that sacred space, Scriptures come alive. In that precious moment, our souls are stirred by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In the divine company of the Triune God, we will discover that God is never silent. As we sit in silence with God next to us, we may even discover that pain might very well be God’s ‘megaphone to rouse’ our deaf spiritual ears. When pain comes, ask for courage to face it. When suffering falls, ask for God’s presence to be with us, through friends, loved ones, or the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

May our hearts then learn to shout out:
"The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song." (Ps 28:7)
Thought: "But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." (CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain, NY: HarperCollins, 1996, p91)

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