Walking our faith: Withstanding the silence
June 25, 2016
This column almost wasn't written. At least not on this topic.
You see, at the moment, I'm mad at God.
But as a faith writer, I feel it's my responsibility to encourage, putting the best face on my walk of faith. So I wondered what you would think of me if I admitted that I'm getting the silent treatment from God. And it leaves me lonely, impatient and sad.
I feel as if I've been pursuing a variation of the "home and career" prayer for the last twenty years, without receiving a lasting or satisfactory response. I'm tired of God not answering my prayers.
And I'm tired of failing through my own efforts.
I read somewhere that God doesn't answer our prayer requests; He only strengthens us to bear whatever we are faced with. That image of a hands-off Higher Power doesn't fit with my understanding of God. It feels too formal: We revere God for His divinity and expect nothing more.
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Frankly, this notion of God is not Biblical. Throughout the Bible, God demonstrates his desire to be involved in the messiest parts of our lives. So much so, that his son, Jesus, lived with us on a daily basis for 33-years, so fully human that he laughed with us, cried with us, embraced our broken hearts and our imperfect love. Jesus' immersion in our humanity cost him humiliation, pain and even abandonment, as when he cried out for God, and received silence.
God did not respond to his son because He was uncaring but so that Christ's purpose on Earth could be fulfilled.
God's desire to be part of our lives didn't end at the Cross. But it does give me a clue about His use of silence in our times of darkness.
I know that I am not alone in wondering if God has abandoned me now. Job wrote, "Oh for the days when I was in my prime, when God's intimate friendship blessed my house." (Job 29:4)
The closer we grow with God, the more painful separation from God will feel. But what are we to make of God's promise, "I will never leave you; I will never abandon you" (Hebrews 13:5) when the only response we receive to our prayer is God's silence?
What are we to do then?
I believe we can find our way through the darkness by following in the steps of David, who was beloved by God.
"Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy." (Psalm 130:1-2)
During times of distress, we need to speak with God throughout each day, to open our hearts as David did, and be confident that God can handle our anger and our tears. Even Jesus cried out on the Cross, "Why have you forsaken me?"
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, His love endures forever." (Psalm 136:1)
How can we feel thankful when our world is falling apart? When I recall how God has helped me in the past, how he has always worked things out for my good, this can be my "evidence of things unseen," my faith that God's help will find me again.
Being thankful for God's provision gives me the courage to go out and try again. As I wait on God, it's important that I am also active. I keep trying and consider my failure a learning experience that will eventually lead to success.
But what am I to make of God's silence during this time? When my heart still hurts in the midst of all of this well-intentioned activity?
God's silence usually signals that He is building my faith, making me a better person. When I speak with God every day, seek his wisdom through the Bible, thank Him for my many blessings, my faith deepens. I am able to separate my love for God from my problems. I see God as a relationship, not a vending machine of blessings. Of course, this doesn't stop me from telling God I'm fed up and want things to change — now.
Be confident of God's plan for my life: "For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11)
It's difficult for me to believe this familiar verse when I am wondering whether my next step will provide a safe landing or a drop off a cliff. It's been so often repeated, it's lost its promise. Yet, I know it is true.
That is the imperfect, uncomfortable balance I live with. I know God's intention is to make me the best version of myself, but at the same time, I am tired and I doubt God's timing. I face the Believer's Paradox: Jesus said, "All things are possible to him who believes!" Immediately the boy's father cried out, "I do believe; help my unbelief!"
And that is my faith journey: To embrace my unbelief and hope my love for God is stronger than my fear of the future. "I will wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope." (Psalm 130:5) My hope springs from experience; I can see God's winnowing process has made me stronger, happier. But am I strong enough to hold on until God's work is complete? Is my trust deep enough to stay the course? I hope so. I cannot know the outcome, but when I grow weary, I will rest in God's promise, "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy." (Psalm 126:3)
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