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Why is God Silent? A New Look at an Old Problem

Silence-of-God

I have never seen, heard, smelt, tasted or empirically experienced God.I have groped for a sign of his presence, love, even his very existence! Angels, Jesus, a sound, or some type of miracle would be sufficient. I remember two years ago when I was going through my depression. . . . Wait. I am getting ahead of myself. . . .

Here is a question I got through an email a while back:

The Question

Mr. Patton,

I have been a believer for quite sometime – since I was eight. It’s a miracle, however, that I believe at all. I grew up in a Oneness Pentecostal home that was very legalistic and rigid. Since then I have changed a great deal in regard to my beliefs. I very much believe in the Trinity, justification by faith, etc. So you could say I’m pretty much orthodox now.

But with all that said, I have been having a bit of trouble with my faith. I’m kinda having a hard time believing in God or praying to him because I just don’t see the point in it anymore because I feel like he doesn’t answer. In fact I feel as if it pointless because he isn’t here – right here, spatially – to speak with me. I dunno I just feel like with all that I have happening in my life a face to face relationship – a person to person conversation – is what I need from him. And I can’t have that. I mean it is as if God is a distant uncle to whom I send letters (prayers), and he sends a postcard. Is it enough to just say that God has spoken through his word so he doesn’t need to speak now? I don’t feel like it. Why couldn’t Jesus have just stayed here, albeit in a ubiquitous form? That way I could talk to him. I know he is the Father’s representative to man and for man so why not stay here where he can be physically accessible?

Response

__________________________________

My friend,

1. Your Problem is not Uncommon

Thanks so much for writing and for your honesty. Your thoughts, it might comfort you to know, are not uncommon. The problem you speak of is called the “hiddenness of God” in theological circles. Why is God so hidden? It is hard to know exactly why, but the fact of his hiddenness is something the Bible speaks to very clearly. In Acts 1 the angels say, “Why do you stare into heaven. . . He will come back just as you have seen him go.” In other words, you will not “see” him again until he comes back. Christ told his disciples in the upper room before his death that it is “better for you if I go because I will send the Comforter.” I often think “it is NOT better for you to go because I cannot see or hear the Holy Spirit.”

2. God is “Silent” in My Life

I believe that naked belief (i.e., without empirical experience) is what God calls on us to have right now. We do have to “limp” through this life without having seen God or Jesus, yet believe in him. I don’t have any perfectly sound theological reason why God is not more empirically evident in our lives (though I will give some thoughts below). My more charismatic friends would disagree, as you probably know. However, I have called and called to God to show himself to me. In my darkest times (and against my better theological judgement), I have groped for a sign of his presence, love, even his very existence! Angels, Jesus, a sound, or some type of miracle would be sufficient. I remember two years ago when I was going through my depression. I stayed up all night crying, sitting in my car in the garage yelling at God, asking him to just do something – anything! The silence at that time was deafening. It was painful. It hurt my feelings at a very deep level that the all-powerful God would not perform the simplest of tasks. I thought, “God, if you are so great and love me so much why are you so silent? Why now? Why when I am this depressed? Just do something!”

3. We Only Have Rumors of Another World

But I think the empirical silence of God is normative for the Christian life. Philip Yancey says that we have to work with “rumors of another world.” In fact, ironically, if God were not empirically silent, the Bible would be in error. Peter says, “And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:8-9; emphasis mine). You see, Peter here assumes that those in his day – even those so close to the life and death of Christ – have not seen Christ (or God or the Holy Spirit). Peter’s point would be moot if he did not mean to include all other forms of experiencing God empirically. The fact is that when Christ ascended into heaven, that was the last we have seen or heard from him in such a way. The door to the “other side” was shut.

Book Recommendation: Rumors of a Another World by Philip Yancey

4. We Should Never Expect to See or Hear God

If Peter’s statement was not enough, the Apostle Paul also says that the Christian life is a life following after the unseen: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18). He goes on by telling us that we “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Christ even told Thomas, who needed to see him before he believed, ”Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29; emphasis mine). The “those who have not seen” are us, and we are many. John could not be more clear here: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen (1 John 4:20, emphasis mine). John does not say, “whom he has probably not seen.” He works under the assumption that everyone reading his letter has not seen God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and (if I can be so bold) the “other side.” Finally, the author of Hebrews defines faith as something hoped for which is not seen: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1; emphasis mine). The very definition of our faith is that we have conviction about truths that cannot be empirically verified. This does not mean that faith is irrational. It just means that we should not expect to have it verified through our senses.

5. We Should Expect to See and Hear God

I am not saying that I have not seen God work in my life. I certainly have. However, my thinking and interpretation of his “movements” is possessed by my belief that he is moving in my life in non-dramatic ways. I see him in everything. I see him even in this email you sent to me. I believe that it is a “God thing.” Why? Because I am convinced of the central truths of Christianity and the reliability of the Bible. I feed off of this (even though I would rather have a periodic conversation with Christ face to face). We work with what we got: trusting God knows what he is doing. So we should expect to see and hear God if it is through his movements.

6. We Need an Empirical Breach from God

However, I do believe that the silence of God serves a definite purpose. God’s silence, ironically, may serve to keep us productive in this life. It may keep us from (and I am getting dramatic here) committing suicide. Let me illustrate (as I have done before) by referencing my favorite show Justice League! It was an episode where Flash went so fast that he actually began to die and cross over to the “other side.” The molecules in his body were completely unstable and he was stuck between this world and the next. When prodded to come back, Flash had a hard time. He said, “But it is so beautiful over here.” Watch it here:

You see, the lines were blurred between this life and the next and Flash wanted to go to the next. He could not concentrate on this world any longer due to his exposure to the next. In other words, he wanted to die due to his empirical experience on the “other side.” He needed to have an experiential breach between this life and the next in order to remain here and accomplish his mission (gettin’ them bad guys). When “rumors of another world” turns into “experience of the other world,” we lose sight of this world.

I don’t think this story is too far from reality. You and I also need an experiential (empirical) breach from the “other side.” We need not to see Jesus. We need not to talk to Jesus. We need not to hear Jesus.

7. The Disciples Knew Jesus (And Wanted to Die with Him)

Let’s look at the example of the Disciples of Christ. The Disciples, understandably, did not want Jesus to die. When he spoke of his death, they were so bold as to desire to die with him. When Thomas – doubting Thomas, of all people! – thought Jesus was going to die, he said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). I love it! A call for death in the name of the Lord! What a simple faith this expresses. Peter was no different when he said “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!”(Lk. 22:33). All who were with Jesus had empirical evidence of the “other side” in the person of Christ and they were not willing to let that go, even to death. In Acts 1:6, they still had hope that Christ had blurred the lines permanently: “Is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” But they had to watch as Christ was taken into the sky, never to be seen again until his second coming (Acts 1:9-11). The point is that the disciples would have gladly gone on a suicide mission with Christ if it meant a continuation of their exposure to the “other side” in the person of Christ.

8. If God Were Not Hidden, We May Want to Die

You and I would do the same. Were God to show himself in the ways we so often think he should – were he to do things the way we would do them – we would probably never be able to accomplish our mission. We would continually be wanting to die in order to cross over. We would be like Flash, having empirical involvement in the world to come, but still having one foot in the current world. However, unlike Flash (who had Superman and Wonder Woman pulling him back!), we most definitely would cross over. Why wouldn’t we? The mysterious would be unmysterious. The lines between this life and the next would be so blurred that we would not hesitate to take that extra step of death, even by our own hand. At the very least, if God were to talk to us face to face, we would never get enough.

While I don’t claim to have all the answers as to why God does not allow us to experience him in such empirical ways, I suspect there is some truth to what I have said here. It is odd to say, but God’s silence may actually preserve his mission for us. The ability to be stable here in this life is actually facilitated by God’s (empirical) silence. I am not saying this is the only reason God is silent, but it does make sense.

Most importantly, while we should not expect to see God with our eyes nor hear him with our ears, God is not ignoring us. His presence is evident and he is not silent. He just moves in very unconventional ways!

Keep the faith my brother. If Christ rose from the grave, then we will one day see him face to face. Until then we must fight the good fight and run the race with our eyes set on the future.

Book Recommendation: Now that I’m a Christian (my book that has a long section on doubt and suffering)

14 Responses to “Why is God Silent? A New Look at an Old Problem”

  1. “Keep the faith my brother. If Christ rose from the grave, then we will one day see him face to face. Until then we must fight the good fight and run the race with our eyes set on the future.”

    Excellent!!! And your comment (quoted above) captures exactly what He has called us to do. As F. Schaeffer said, “He is there and He is NOT silent.” We just expect Him to be “nosy” the way our world is. His “silence” shouts loudly in the worship and praise of His children. Can’t you hear His voice clearly in the encouraging words of friend or a gentle reminder of His goodness in the words of a Psalm? Did you eat this AM and take many breaths? Who is there providing so graciously?

    Our problem is not God’s silence. It is willful blindness to His constant presence and provision. Let us immerse ourselves in His goodness and we will never know Him as “silent”.

  2. As human beings are beings that require both physical and spiritual means to connect and know, God, in his Wisdom gave a Church as a sacramental presence with the Holy Spirit as her “soul”. In the same vein that God gave us the Sacraments through which we receive grace — regardless of our unworthiness. Thus, we are (re)born in Christ through sacramental Baptism in the Name of God (Trinitarian form).

    While individual prayers may take time to be answered, they will definitely be answered in due time and in God’s ways. Whether we see it or not is another question. Whether we “feel” His answers, is yet another question. By the Church’s faith (the Christian Faith founded on Christ, the Cornerstone and no other), we believe that God answers our prayers. The cause (the actual grace) is there but the effect (feeling, knowing the answers) may not be that obvious. Let alone, have we given thanks for the very life that we have every waking second of the day? What about the rain, the sunshine, and many other factors that make us alive.. and happy? So many graces are abound yet we are content to ask for more specific ones.

    I think it is a matter of sensitivity that we are losing, rather than the graces and “answers” that we are looking for from our God.

  3. I love points 6,7 and 8. I have never considered that viewpoint and it completely makes sense. Thank you. That helps with a terrible silence I have been experiencing these last two years.

  4. I must admit that had I read this a few years ago I would have agreed with you that God was silent. Though to do that I would have to ignore the nearly impossible events of my life previously. To the best of my knowledge I do not remember meeting an angel of light, but I have however experienced exactly what the bible describes as condemnation of God experienced by David. If one has ever experienced such an event it becomes undeniable that this world literally changes and metamorphizes into a world with signs, warnings, and darkness. I cannot say how this is possible, because I’m an engineer and I look to realistic explanations and not personal revelations (which are personally relative), but I can tell you that at that moment I knew it was a shot over the bow of the boat and I knew that there was something greater in control that did not agree with my decisions at that time. In fact it has happened to me more than once (twice that I remember). I don’t use recreational drugs (smiles) and I don’t drink or smoke so it wasn’t that I was under the influence just to be explicit. I also avoid pharmaceutical versions of the same thing because well I love reality and seeing in detail, so again what I experienced could not have been anything except reality. I don’t want to tell you what I observed or why, that is a personal matter between me and the Father and Son. But again as an electrical engineer I can tell you what I observed was other worldly overlapped into this one and the message was very clear, which is to get my act together because the world owner isn’t happy about what I was doing. In short I was being “lawless” by thinking that all I had to do was “believe in Jesus” and not walk the walk or obey the 10 commandments.

    When we are having a hard time in life it’s rather easy to become a doubter and then we forget all the past events (both good and bad) that seem rather miraculous in our lives at those times. Because as Jesus said a doubter can see a miracle performed in front of their eyes, but they would just keep asking to be shown more to prove it to them. All the miracles performed in front of their eyes would never be enough. All one has to do is look around and see the complexity and intricacy of this world. Go out and pick up a handful of sand/dirt then stare at each grains complexity, then look at the mountains and see all the clarity and say to oneself this is amazing that I get to participate in this miracle to such depth of consciousness (awareness and life). I’m an engineer and I have studied the intellect behind the imagery and it’s ASTOUNDING! Everything you see and are partaking is a miracle believe me.

    But it truly is in the hard times that we are gaining the most. There is a reason why prophets went to the desert to search for God in the hardest and most bleakest and most drained points of their existence. Nobody likes to feel separated from God, but that is where we search hardest for it. And the bible makes clear why God doesn’t present itself easily. And that is because it wants us to seek it on our own accord! That is exactly why even false prophets are placed here is to test our love and resolve to find the truth. To keep seeking. This may be the ultimate test of love God requires by giving us freedom is to see how much we use in our freedom in knowing it. Yes you are taking an exam and it is a timed test.

    As far as the idea of desire to die because of knowing another world or existence, I take that as too much gnosticism for my liking. I don’t think this creation (beings it was created by the infinite God) is a terrible one. In fact minus the humanly “world” of power and corruption I think it is quite fair. Freedom of choice and choosing our own causes (sowing), and reaping from those with good application of the truths of God’s laws (will or works of God) isn’t so forebearable. This world and its natural laws isn’t a heavy burden or yoke. Yes bad things happen that aren’t always of our own choice making, but again if I were to weigh all that I received in this life versus to what it cost me I’m still way ahead of the game. Just look at the beauty of this world and tell me that it isn’t worth being here right now? And I wager that if people were truly acting in accord to how to Moses and Yeshua prescribed it would be an even more gracious place to live, as the politcal and man made world or power and destruction would be gone. Again the most unfair aspect of this world to me is the people or political “world” . But we are the salt of this world and its our purpose to add savour to it. And we do this by changing the world to a better place. God certainly owns us an everything in this world, but he has assigned us the stewardship of it. Gnostics however think quite differently that this material physical world should be destroyed because it is corrupting, and we would all be better off because we could then be freed to a more perfect world. Gnosticism is quite frankly the corruption of mind that lends to suicide instead of manning up and pulling oneself up to act as the salt of this earth.

    I must summarize to say that the thing that most people don’t like about our present fallen world is called entropy. Its a physical loss that is demonstrably verifiable. Though even entropy can be viewed as a positive. For example sometimes the earth most recycle materials, and the flies and maggots disperse those elements and free them up in an entropic way. And though entropy is a loss on everything we do, including life that it wants to bring back from higher form to death or loss. I must say that the point of life is to fight entropy. Entropy is the force to make higher forms or order proceed to lower forms or chaos. But, life has and always chooses to buck the trend and try to make higher order from disorder. That is again proof what this whole thing is about is given the choice do you choose life or disorder. And obviously if the choice were easy then what good would that be? No it has to cost you something in order for you to appreciate it all the more. Otherwise like all the miracles you are afforded right now, you’d just take life for granted. Again you are meant to buck and fight the weeds growing in your gardens. You are meant to pass the test by choosing life whenever you can. You are also meant to find and seek the Lord and hence his Father, and while you work and expend energy fighting entropy and giving savour to this world you get a nice beautiful sunrise and sunset. How bad of a deal is that?

  5. Also I want to be clear that when I say I wish I could have seen an angel of light, I don’t mean Lucifer (smiles). I meant I wish I could say I had seen a angel of the father and tell everyone such.

  6. Well I see my previous comment disappeared and so now the angel of light one looks a rather strange if the last statement is taken in context by itself. Oh well it’s a beautiful Monday, glad to be alive. You all have a fantastic day.

  7. I think by and large it’s not a problem of the “hiddenness of God”, but a problem of our will wrestling against the will of God. Too often we expect our needs to be met in a certain way, our prayers to be answered in a certain way, and our actions to be rewarded in a certain way. Our need to perceive God physically and unambiguously is often less about wanting God to build our faith, but more about demanding him to convince us that he is truly worth obeying.

    I may be a little presumptuous in saying “we”, because I speak out of my own experience. I wrestle with God on these issues quite frequently. I realize where my problem lies, but sometimes it’s really hard not to ask for some theophany for a little personal boost when everything else seems to be going against what I want. Which is why I need to remind myself of the following passage every now and then:

    “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.”

  8. #4: How many places in the OT does God say “you will know I am God when I do X” (or words to that effect). The early church did expect to see God. While there are verses about faith, not sight, the one thing that God says sets him apart from mere superstition is that He is active.

    #6: I don’t think the average person wrestling with this issue is looking for a glimpse of the hereafter. They are looking for some acknowledgement from God that He cares, or is at least involved in some way. I think the use of heaven is a bit of a straw man; nobody is expecting that. And there are plenty of biblical individuals who had an unambiguous encounter with God and who didn’t then want to commit suicide (Mary, Joseph, Abraham, Ezekiel, Elijah, Elisha, Moses, all of the apostles, and many, many people in the early church who saw the word of the apostles confirmed by miracles). This argument strikes me as dismissive of what people are really looking for – it’s answering a question nobody is asking.

    #7: Thomas didn’t ask for any evidence the other disciples hadn’t already received. But more importantly, although the disciples did not again see Jesus in the flesh, they did see and expected to see miracles, signs, prophecies, healings, and other supernatural events. And these were specifically to confirm the message (Acts 2, 4, 5, 6, 14, 15, 19, 1 Corinthians 12, Galatians 3, Hebrews 2). In John 14:11, even Jesus said that belief on the basis of seeing (seeing His works) was an acceptable basis for belief. Saying we shouldn’t expect to see Jesus in the flesh is a bit of hand waving. Like my comment in #6, people who wrestle with this issue aren’t asking for a personal visitation. They are just looking for something tangible.

    The hiddenness of God is a legitimate concern, and I don’t think we should brush it away casually. If God never did anything, ever, that was visible, then this wouldn’t be an issue. But the question people have is really this: If God was active in the Bible, and if in the New Testament people needed confirmation to believe, and if even Thomas, who needed additional reassurance, got his request for evidence answered, why don’t we (I) experience it? Although people don’t necessarily state it that way, I think that’s the real question.

  9. “Why is God so silent?” It is my experience that if a Christian has not encountered (or does not admit to) chronic, long-term silence from God, they have very little empathy/compassion for those who do. They are quick to hand out their “pet” cure for remedying why God is silent. They are like Job’s 3 miserable friends. They mean well, but their words in reply are empty and hurtful. Sermons rarely address the issue of God seemingly going dark for long periods of time. There is the token once a year or so message reflecting on Job’s plight. The book of Job does not, to my reading, indicate how long Job was in pain reaching out to God and finding Him (at least on the surface) silent. It does convey to my reading that the hopelessness Job was facing was close to that of suicide, i.e., Job 3:21 “Who long for death, but it cometh not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures; Job 7:15 “So that my soul chooseth strangling, and death rather than my life.” and numerous other verses in which he reveals the desolation of his soul. I recently copied this quote from John Piper into a journal I keep, “When God means for something to happen, it happens! Thus, God cannot “purpose” something and than claim He is not the author of it.” I take John Piper’s words to be inclusive of even the unrelenting silence one may be experiencing from God.

  10. Points 6, 7, & 8 are interesting but how do you explain the fact that throughout history prophets have heard from God in miraculous dreams, visions, etc. but the Bible doesn’t indicate this caused them to be suicidal…

  11. God speak with us through prayer, the Holy Spirit, and reading His Word. plain and simple folks.

  12. To believe is not a one time deal. Gotta practice everyday -no one promised tomorrow. Faith is from God, it never treads water, it sinks or swims stronger & stronger. Give Him your fleshly Faith as Abraham offered his fleshly love for Isaac in exchange for His promise of the increase in Christ. Speak His Word to Him and you will experience His Way Truth and Life

  13. in a daily practical way. Many believe but do not know personal love for God. Believe me, ask Him for His love, faith, hope, etc, and you will surely receive. In His time, by His design. God’s voice is heard by faith. (the practice of). Make Him your ambition, He is always our Husband as well. Love.

  14. God speaks through his written word.
    I never ever have a problem about God being silent .
    I have the holy Bible to hear him speak all I have to do is read
    Or meditate on what I know by memory from his word .
    So many people always try to blame God point the finger at God
    When all the problem is on them .
    God done everything a just God could possibly do when he sent his son to die On that old cross.
    My Greatest concern is the lost souls who become confused by all the voices out there . Trumpet giving an uncertain sound
    Billions are lost .
    God is A very present help in trouble .
    Where is the fivefold ministry ?
    I myself am called to be prophet and evangelist and teacher .
    And it grieves me when I see all the confusing voice out there that are hurting sinners . I hear from God personally and I can tell others what he is going to do in many cases…and that gives peace. And that’s one of the great blessings The spirit of prophecy brings .
    Some people try to analyze God they tried to figure him out .
    And when God doesn’t act according to their views , They spiritually pout. At times he is disbelieved or thought to not exist .
    What does God want from us walk humbly, trust HIM, love your fellow man and quit trying to figure him out

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