Summary: We often times interpret God’s silence to mean he is absent, but the truth is that God’s silence is an opportunity for Him to draw us closer and prepare us for an even greater revelation
Silence is something most of us aren’t comfortable with. The brief 20 seconds I stood before you, looking at you in silence may have seemed liked an eternity. What were you thinking as we looked at each other in silence? We will many times equate silence with something being wrong and will rush to fill the silence, but far too often in our rush, we inappropriately fill the silence.
During the course of a conversation, there invariably comes that lull, the silence that indicates you’ve exhausted your realm of small talk. You’ve gotten through the pleasantries of “Hello, how are you, how was your week,” and you have to make a decision to either extend the conversation beyond small talk, going a little deeper, or move on and speak with someone else.
There’s also that awkward silence of riding in an elevator. Have you ever noticed how people rarely make eye contact and speak when riding on an elevator? It’s an interesting phenomenon. I will many times speak to people on elevators just to see their reaction, and often times get that look that says, “Don’t you know we don’t talk on the elevator.” When we’ve had busy days at work or with our children or with household responsibilities, we sometimes long for silence, but when we’re at a social gathering or in the presence of others, silence usually makes us uncomfortable.
Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt as though God was silent? How did you react? How did you respond to God’s silence? In this morning’s scripture passage, God, through his son Jesus Christ, is initially silent. Jesus receives word that Lazarus, the brother of his dear friends Mary and Martha, is sick. Their message specifically said, “He whom you love is sick.” The underlying meaning is, “Come quickly and heal our brother,” but we read that after hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus stays put two days longer. He hears the plea of his beloved friends, and Jesus remains silent. He doesn’t go to Bethany. He doesn’t even send them a message. He is simply silent.
In light of the situation, we could characterize Jesus’ silence as insensitive. It might even be appropriate to say that it was callous and hurtful to maintain this silence during this time of great need. Mary and Martha had a strong relationship with Jesus. They had a deep faith in him as the Son of God, and they had no reason to believe that he wouldn’t respond to their request that he come to Bethany.
Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in the midst of a situation where you called out to God, where you sent him a message to come, because you desperately needed to see and hear from him, but you felt as though you got nothing? He was silent. If you can say, “Yes,” you’re not alone. I’m sure there are others here who have had this experience. I’ve had this experience. God’s own son, Jesus Christ, had the same experience. As he hung on a cross, he cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Why do you remain silent in the midst of my pain? Why are you silent when I need you the most?
Understanding God’s silence isn’t easy, because our natural tendency is to interpret the silence as indifference. This is especially true when we are in the midst of a crisis. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are certainly in the midst of a crisis, and the last thing want is for their Lord to be silent. It’s also true when we’re in the midst of making a prayerfully, important decision. Have you ever prayed this prayer, “God, help me make this decision.” “God if you’ll only show me what to do, then I’ll do it.” “God, I need to know how to deal with this situation, please show me.” And nothing – you get silence.
We don’t understand it, and it can be very frustrating. When Mary finally sees Jesus, she places the blame and responsibility on him. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Many of us have had the same or similar thoughts at different times in our lives.
While we don’t fully understand the silence, and while it can frustrate us, God many times uses the silence to draw us closer. Jesus certainly drew Mary and Martha closer through his silence, for it was through the silence that Jesus was able to bring about an even bigger revelation…raising Lazarus from the dead.
The initial reaction and the initial focus was on God’s absence; His silence in not responding to their pleas, but through the silence He drew them closer and brought about an even greater revelation. Our challenge is to not interpret God’s silence as indifference, insensitivity, or callousness, but as a sign that He is bringing us into an even more wonderful understanding of himself. When you can’t hear God, you will find that He has trusted you in the most intimate way possible- with silence, but not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because He sees that you can withstand an even bigger revelation than you’re expecting.