Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Silence of God

Have you ever felt abandoned by God?

Have you felt that He hasn’t heard your prayers or He doesn’t want to help you or that He is unaware of how much you hurt?

It isn’t an uncommon feeling. If you are someone who prays, the prayers at such times seem like strange things. How does a person pray to God when there doesn’t seem to be any response? What is your prayer like when instead of praying in the quiet of God you feel you are praying in the silence of God?

You aren’t alone.

Job felt like that:

"Only grant me these two things, O God,
and then I will not hide from you:

Withdraw your hand far from me,
and stop frightening me with your terrors.

Then summon me and I will answer,
or let me speak, and you reply..."

--Job 13:20-22

He was praying for his misery to stop and for God to respond to his suffering.

Is this how you have felt? Have you felt that you are alone in your pain and that no one, not even the Lord God who is supposed to be merciful and loving, is aware of what you are going through? How do your prayers feel to you when you are in such situations? Frustrated? Confused?

King David felt like that:

How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

--Psalm 13

Now there is an interesting twist. In the midst of his anguish, within his fear and troubles, he still praises God. He still let God know he wanted an answer, a response, not the continuing silence of a divinity giving no indication of hearing the plaintive cry.

It is wonderful that David still found room in his heart to praise God in the midst of his troubles. I think it pleases God when we continue to find room for praise, even when the giving of such praise is a painful thing.

It isn’t unreasonable to cry out to God in frustration.

Consider this prayer:

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" —which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

--Matthew 27:45-46

Even the Son of God felt abandoned.

Did you know Jesus wasn’t praying spontaneously there? He was quoting scripture:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel.

--Psalm 22:1-3

I have felt like this. The first post of this blog ends with a surprising answer to such a prayer.

I think you may have felt like this too.

It is common.

What are we to make of the suffering of humanity? What are we to make of prayers that go unanswered?

I have a friend, a good friend, who is praying for me. He has been praying for me for some time. He points out the passages in scripture, especially in the book of Mark, of how the Lord wants to heal us, to make us whole. He suggests that we are not designed to suffer, that the Lord wants healing for each and every one of us.


He has been praying for my psoriasis. I have a skin condition which reddens, and itches, and flakes and cracks and splits. My hands bleed. The skin splits open. The rash on my ankle chafes under my sock. My scalp flakes, and itches, and the hair hides little sores. The skin flakes and sloughs off between my toes.

My friend believes I am to be healed of this.

Perhaps. I am willing to pray along with him.

My friend’s wife is especially prayerful. She is a prayer warrior who holds my family up in prayer and asks the Lord for blessings. For my health, for the spiritual protection of my children. There is good reason to believe that the darkness from which we plucked our children (Haiti) chases after them still.

I eagerly join my friends in these prayers, for the protection of my family. I pray for them every day. I pray over them each night. I pray for them as I slip into my own sleep. Every night. Every day. Whether I feel the connection to God or not.

Has there been a direct response? Maybe. I think things are better than they have been. (I need to post about Jeremiah's recent progress.)

My wife is praying for me right now. Many of you are also. There is something strange going on with my left arm. The neurologist hints that it may have been a small stroke, a bizarre thing to happen to a fifty year old.

The doctors do not know what it is. I don’t blame them at all. The more I learn about the human body the more amazed I am. I do not think that any man can fully understand it all. I suppose that is why they say doctors practice medicine. They never fully know it all, so they practice.

But I am patient with my situation. (Ha! I’m a patient patient!)

The implication of my friend's statement is the Lord wants me healed, but I am getting in the way of that healing. That may be true. The sin in my life might be preventing the Lord from working fully to heal me.

But I think: it isn’t as simple as that.

What of hurricane Katrina? What of the misery of that event? All those people, crying out for for help. Thousands homeless. Hom many dead? How many missing? How many families disrupted and grieving? Does the Lord God hear those prayers?

Consider December 24, 2004. A tremendous earthquake beneath the Indian Ocean caused over 275,000 deaths. More than a quarter of a million people simply washed away. The Lord promised not to destroy all the world in a flood, but for many in that corner of our planet it seemed to be the whole world.


It casts Hurricane Katrina into a much smaller category of misery.

There are worse situations. In the 13th century the world went through “The Little Ice Age.”

At the end of the Dark Ages, following the Fall of the Roman Empire, the peasant population in Europe had grown from 20 million to 60 million. People all over the world had moved into marginal areas. And the climate shifted. For three centuries.

Infant mortality climbed to 50%. Try to imagine that much sorrow. I lost a child once. It hurt so badly, the ache in my heart still throbs distantly.

It grew wet and cold during those three centuries. People crowded together, becoming prime targets for all sorts of disease. The worst was bubonic plague. But there was malaria, and ergot poisoning, and all the other diseases bourne of rotting crops and corpses.

There was malnutrition. There was starvation. The story of Hansel and Gretel has its roots in the abandonment of children of this period (so others would have enough to eat). Imagine the misery! Life expectancies plummeted. Thousands were killed as witches (for bringing the bad weather). By the time it was over Europe's population was halved.

Where was God? Millions of people died slow painful deaths. Over those three centuries how many people died of plague and starvation and tuberculosis? Forty million? Sixty million? The population when it was over was half of what it was. How many suffered just long enough to have children, and left orphans behind?

It is easy to speak of natural processes. It is easy to speak of the carbon cycle of trees and the balancing act of ecosystems. It is easy to say the Earth’s environmental health is kept vital by the replenishing of materials in the crust caused by the tectonic plates moving beneath us. But it does not comfort a child who’s mother has perished along with everyone else in the village when the ocean stood up and strode over the land.

I’m not wise enough to have the answers to such questions.

But I know something that goes beyond my understanding of history and geology and ecosystems. I know, with a certainty that surpasses my belief that I have two eyes to see my world, and two hands to hold my wife, that the Lord God Almighty is a loving, caring, powerful God.

We pray because there is something within us that recognizes the truth of the spiritual realm. We pray for each other. We pray with each other. We make prayer our vocabulary to each other:

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

--Ephesians 5:19-20

So how are we to pray when terrible things happen?

We pray as we should always pray: with open honesty. We pray the prayers of fear. We pray the prayers of questions, and even the prayers of accusations. We pray the prayers of abandonment and confusion. We pray who we are, where we are.

We pray with praise, even if the giving gives us pain.


Jim said...

You are right on in my book. Your Job scripture was a part of our Sunday school lesson today.

From one article I read, I learned a new word, theodicy. We know about it, just a new word. It means "defense of God's goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil"

Or, how can a loving God allow pain and suffering and affliction?

Collin Brendemuehl said...

Certainly praying, listening, and waiting are the hardest challenge of the life of a Believer. Especially the listening and waiting part. (We do like to talk a lot.)

Internet Street Philosopher said...

I've been there where I had done everything to clear the air with God and it felt like nothing was getting better. But God still listens and helps us through the storms.

Becky said...

broken, beat, tired and alone...What is the meaning of plagues, genocide, natural disasters, and death? God what are you doing? I don't understand but I believe that you are righteous, I believe you are soveriegn. I believe your good is not my good. Oh God be near us in our time of trouble, in our time of pain please be near. Burst forth from the shell that holds us in. Be near us Father to make sense of all of this nonsense.


Me said...

Sometimes the hardest part about prayer is accepting that sometimes the answer is no. When you are praying for something to happen and it doesn't, it doesn't mean God isn't listening. Sometimes the answer is no.

Ame said...

This is awesome, CS. It shows the depth of your intimacy with Almighty God and your wisdom of who He is and who He is not. God is Sovereign ... knowing that truth and learning that truth are often two different things. You have known ... and you have learned ... and you have also experienced. How can we understand the mind of God? We cannot. After all is exhausted, we still cannot. So we rest in what we know ... He IS God ... He loves us with an everlasting love ... He desires deep, intimate relationships with us ... He never leaves us ... we will be whole in Heaven. Thank you for this post ... I needed it today :)

see-through faith said...

we pray the psalms. honest and real.

Felisol said...

Dear Curious Servant,
I belong to those morons who always try to understsnd, to find God's way in everything that happens in my life and to the vaste world. At best I get confused and bewildered.
Then I read Job's tale, it's like a sermon held by one whose insight and wisdom go beyond theories and book knowledge.
If nothing else your wandering on Job's path has given you the ability to share, teach and enlighten cowanderers.
I thank you for today's lesson. It moved me deeply, and made my shoulders relax an inch or two.
I am looking forward to this day, (early morning in Norway), and wander what God has made ready for me to walk in..

Jada's Gigi said...

I love the words "We make prayer our vocabulary to each other" would that we would make this a practice...speaking Christ to one another.
Thank God I do not have to know all or understand all...He remains sovereign, All in all....bigger than any thought or plan we might conceive. His Son is His eternal purpose and everything else is a means to that end.

hazelorbs said...

prayer and praise is sometimes the most painful thing to do...yet, my hope and faith rely on the thought that God hears my quiet voice admist the chaos of the world.

curious servant said...

Health update:

MRI shows nothing wrong in my brain (go figure!).

The left arm is still numb and the fingers tingle. They are guessing it is a pinched nerve in my neck.

I'm taking a break froom the testing. It is starting to shake my faith in my sanity.

Thank you, all of you, for your prayers.


Anonymous said...

can you read my mind? that's exactly what i've been feeling last night. it's really hard. i know. we'll keep on praying for each other. i'm praying for your complete recovery. let's keep the faith!

God bless!

Ame said...

You know, I cannot tell you how many times tests have come up negative for us and then the docs just kinda begin guessing.

Those MRI brain scans are interesting, aren't they? My daughter had one when she was 8 months old ... we asked the Pediatric Neurologist to show us the pics - they were really fascinating. Thankfully ... hers were "normal," too. The one perk? We will always have a "baseline" of pics of her brain in the event she ever needs them ... which I hope she doesn't :)

Thanks for sharing your good news! God is Sovereign ... and He knows ... and He will let you know if and when you need to :)

Joash Chan said...

yes, we must persevere in prayer.

curious servant said...

Thanks AME!

Fred said...

Glad your brain is okay.

As I read your post, I though about all the people in life who think thay've been wise enough to have all the answers. They should read this entry.

curious servant said...

Thanks Fred, re. my brain, for the exageration.

People tend to think they know what they know.

It seems to me that the more I read, and grow and experience this incredibly complex yet simple world the more I learn that I know so very little.

We really don't know much at all.

I have a lot of opinions on things. I have read about a lot of science and theology andliterature... but it seems to me the more I see the less absolute things are. I really don't know much at all.

I am more certain about things of my heart than I am about the things of my mind.

I have written another post about prayer (lots of pictures). I will probably post it tonight.

Next Wednesday is the last day with students. Next Friday is the last day of work.


music.angel said...

I needed to read this. I'm not there...yet. But i needed the reminder.
The one who has always been there for me, is the reason for my groanign and crying out to God. The one who would read scripture to me, and pray over me is the one who is causing my questions and doubts. Be ever thankful for your good friend. Cherish the moments. I pray mine return.