When you try to engage someone who is silent, you do your best in a one-sided conversation. Then, with no response forthcoming, you move on to someone who will engage. Such is the experience of many who feel alone in their sufferings. They try to talk to God; they really try. But how long can they wait for nothing? So they adjust their expectations and figure out how to get by on their own. God exists, they believe, but he doesn’t involve himself in day-to-day human affairs.
This is standard fare for many Christians who are suffering. For some, that turn away from God is short-lived, for others, it becomes a way of life.
And it makes perfect sense. Why would someone who claims to love you be mum when you need him most? Except for one thing—he isn’t silent.
God does speak
There is no divine conspiracy of silence.
He speaks through Moses and the prophets. During his own perilous walk through the wilderness, Jesus received many words from the Father.
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matt. 4:4)
You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve. (Matt. 4:10)
Jesus “heard” well-known, public-domain Scripture, and it sustained him. These were the Father’s words, given to Moses and the prophets. The Father spoke to Jesus through Scripture and this is also how he speaks to us.
Might we protest, “but we were looking for something more direct”? If we do, Abraham himself responds to us. “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). In other words, while we accuse God of silence, we are only fooling ourselves. If the Father appeared and spoke with us face to face, his words would have no more weight in our hearts than the ones he has already spoken. If we find his words in Scripture to fall short, we would also find his personal visitation unsatisfactory.
He speaks through Jesus. And Abraham is correct. If we miss God’s speech in Moses and the prophets, we will miss it in Jesus, even though everything he received from the Father—all the words he heard, all the comfort he received in his suffering—the Son has given to us. All of it.
[Jesus said] No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15, also Heb. 1:1-2)
Silence is how someone treats a slave, and we are not God’s slaves. We are his children. Even more, we are his friends, and friends get the inside story.
So we hear plenty. We hear that Satan tempts us when life is especially hard. We hear mercy and compassion. We hear the songs and stories of like-minded people who heard clearly even though things initially seemed quiet (e.g., Ps. 22). We hear promises galore that are finalized in the Son. We hear that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and we will participate in that resurrection and new life. We hear that royal children are best tested through trials to see if their allegiances stand the test.
We hear a lot, and the words are now personally delivered by the Spirit.
So we get reoriented. Now, rather than muddle through as orphans, we search Scripture. We study Moses and the prophets. We study the life of Jesus and listen for what the Father gave him. When that task feels overwhelming, we ask others who have heard the wisdom of God during their sufferings. What did they hear? What Scripture was most precious?
Perhaps we solicit the help of those wise men and women who have learned how to force-feed themselves on Scripture when they were uninterested in such food. One of my favorites is a man who, on the bleakest of days, when God seems most silent, has the greatest resolve to feed on Scripture until both his appetite returns and he is full for the day. His certainty that God speaks is an inspiration to many.
When Jesus calls us friends, we respond with hope—and hope, in this case, means that we are certain that we can hear his good and encouraging words. Such hope makes us activists who set out to locate those words. Such hope is committed to persevere with Scripture. We read it even if we don’t feel like it, and we pray for ears that hear.