There are few things more lonely and scary than God’s silence.
I once witnessed a woman throw a rosary into a trash can after being informed her son had died.
“I prayed for him to be healed,” she said, her voice firm, her eyes hollow. “Now I know there is no God.”
If you walk with Jesus, you will likely encounter the wilderness. You pray and feel unheard. You ache and feel unloved. You cry out and feel unanswered.
Where is God when you hear only silence?
John of the Cross calls this gut-wrenching experience “the dark night of the soul.”
We may look around the pews watching other worshipers bow their heads and wonder, “Why is God speaking to them and not to me? Why do they feel God’s comforting presence when I am left alone on an island?”
Even turning to Scripture may not bring immediate relief. Author John Bunyan wrote that he experienced periods when the Bible felt to him “as dry as a stick.”
What do we do when God seems silent?
The question reminds me of the story of a man who was given the death penalty for a crime he didn’t commit. His friends abandoned him, as friends sometimes do, and he was left completely alone.
After a trial that was more show than substance, he was marched toward his executioners. Filled with anguish, he shouted to the only one left to hear him:
“God, why have you abandoned me?”
It seemed an impertinent thing to ask of God, but then, this man was quoting a Psalm:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. –Psalm 22:1-2
God can handle our biggest emotions, friends. Throughout the Psalms we read lament, anger, fear, rage, grief, and shame. Words that seem much too harsh for a tidy worship service are littered through the pages of Scripture.
When God seems silent we have Biblical permission to question, to beg, to rage.
Directing an angry word to God seems unwise if you’re about to be executed, as this man was. Yet he called out to God, banging against a door that seemed closed, questioning the Almighty’s care.
This must be sinful, right? It can’t be okay to yell at God. Or can it?
The story is, of course, Jesus’ own. In his dark night of the soul he prayed words of fear, anguish, and abandonment. He who had no sin.
He prayed words from the Psalms, words David had prayed centuries and centuries before.
My God. Why.
My God. Forsaken.
When God seems silent, look to Jesus. He walked in the wilderness in Matthew 4. He experienced abandonment in Matthew 27, Mark 15, John 19, Luke 23.
You are not alone in experiencing God this way. It is a common, albeit heart-wrenching experience.
Nearly all the great mothers and fathers of the faith went through wilderness seasons. Most of your friends in the pews have had them–or are having them–too. I have. My mentors in ministry have. My husband has.
It is normal.
You need not be ashamed.
When God seems silent, keep knocking at the door. Tell God honestly about how you feel, what you long for, how your heart aches.
Look to the Psalms and let them give you permission to speak to God honestly, even angrily.
Wait for God with friends who will remind you of his goodness, his love, his care. With friends who will let you be sad without trying to talk you out of your pain.
Wait for him in worship where the prayers of the community can lift you up when you have no more prayers of your own.
Let the Scriptures speak to you of unchanging truths.
God will not be silent forever.
If you’re struggling with God’s silence, leave me a comment or send me an email. I’d love to pray for you.