Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Silence of God

by Peter Lockhart on Psalm 42

“As a deer longs for flowing streams,

So my soul longs for you, O God.”

The silence of God in our era, as with many other eras in history, is palpable. The longing words of Psalm 42 are words that could be cried out as much by an agnostic as man or a woman of faith.

Where is God?
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

These are words of confusion and of lament, words that many of us in our faith are reticent to articulate for fear others might judge us as somehow inadequate in our walk with God. If I admit I do not hear God’s voice to other Christians, let alone people who have a different or no faith, what will they think of me?

Yet I would argue that direct revelation whether they come in dreams or audible voices are the exception not the rule. Certainly this is the case in the Biblical narratives. Whilst there are people who have such miraculous moments of connection, those whose hearts are strangely warmed and those who see visions, so many others have only silence.

Where is God?
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

In the storm of life there are people who cry out to God all the time.

The cry of those born in poverty who die as yet another statistic in a roll call far too great for our hearts to bear.

The cry of those without work and whose dignity is lost and whose lives so often spiral into despair.

The cry of those who live with constant pain as age and infirmity eat away at their lives.

The cry of those who suffer from a terminal illness as they long for a miracle.

The cry of our own lives as we look for a glimpse of the divine in the midst of our joys and sorrows.

I often think that those who sit in the mysterious silence of our God are in some way are especially blessed if maintain any faith at all. Jesus said to Thomas, blessed are those who believe without seeing, and might I add hearing.

For it is not simply the silence of God which confronts us it is the loud doubt and scorn of the world that surrounds us. The Psalmist laments:

My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

We live in a country and a time where and when less people are involved in the church and the church is subject to judgement and to ridicule. The mob’s voices fill the silence with a raging torrent of words offering other options and other hopes and other despairs.

Whilst the voices clamour around us as people of faith as we are questioned in our confused silence and misconceptions about God’s revelation we argue amongst ourselves.

Where can we find hope?

In the Old Testament we read of the prophet Elijah in the midst of despair on the run from Ahab and Jezebel and in the midst of his trials God comes in this way:

9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.

The storm may rage around us, the storm that is life and we might think that God is absent as we cry when God is silent but let us not forget Elijah’s experience that it was in the sheer silence that God was present.

Maybe the silence that we experience is simply that moment which rests on the cusp of God’s speaking and maybe like the Psalmist we will remember that whatever we may be feeling or thinking, that:

By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.

For the silence of God that we experience is the silence that Jesus experienced in his sense of abandonment on the cross. The silence we experience is the still of Saturday when Jesus descended into the dead. But the silence we experience is also the sheer quiet in the empty tomb from which Christ has risen. God is never absent from the silence and if God is silent it never means that God is absent, and maybe it even means that God is listening, deeply listening to our lives an dour vocies. Let us find hope and heart in the silence of God that we are not alone.




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