Summary: We’ve all experienced what’s been called “the dark night of the soul.” Our desolation deals with the absence of God. We trust God is near, and that He cares about us, but there are unsettling times when He seems quite distant. Just because God is somet
“The Absence/Silence of God” Psalm 13 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
“Where was God when tragedy struck?” “Why don’t I sense God with me more?” “How can I pray when I hear no answer? Am I just talking to myself?” These are troubling questions many of us have asked. We’ve all experienced what’s been called “the dark night of the soul.” Our desolation deals with the absence of God. We trust God is near, and that He cares about us, but there are unsettling times when He seems quite distant.
We pray, and God is silent. We pray about our jobs, our family, our health, our decisions. Some believers admit they ask God for less in order not to be disappointed. Phil Yancy writes: “I find it easer to believe in the impossible—to believe in the parting of the Red Sea, to believe in Easter—than to believe in what should seem more possible: the slow, steady dawning of God’s life in people like me…I need to believe in the possible.” Just because God is sometimes silent, doesn’t mean He isn’t listening.
Think of Israel in Egypt. Joseph was long dead, and the nation was under new leadership, a Pharaoh who was hostile towards the Jews. The Bible calls him “the Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.” God’s chosen people were slaves in Egypt for over 430 years. Where was God during this time? Did He care? Did His promises to Abraham still matter for anything? Did some of these people give up on God? What must have felt like an unending nonappearance of God is felt today.
What we fail to realize is that God’s absence is part of the salvation story; it’s somehow part of His providential plan. Yet silence doesn’t feel normal in our understanding of God. We read of David slaying Goliath, of Joshua’s trumpets around Jericho, of Elijah’s chariot of fire, and especially of Jesus…and we wonder why the so-called days of miracle and wonder are gone.
What we have now is something no Bible person had—the Bible. We have God’s complete revelation. They at best had parts of the Old Testament and fragments of the New. By the end of the first century, the entire canon of Scripture was complete, and so were the days of God’s manifest presence. Jesus is returning, but until that Day, we’re waiting, and often wondering. The life of faith is one of patience, and hope. We “see through a glass darkly.” As we let God speak to us in His word, His past actions provide us confidence for tomorrow. Such confidence has been called “future faith”.
Job did not have a single page of Scripture…and throughout his suffering he struggled with God’s apparant absence. Like Job, we feel forsaken at times; we wonder if God is indifferent to our pain. The kind of God Job wanted was absent, one who fit his notion of fairness, Who would give him whatever he asked. Job poses questions that God doesn’t answer. Job was trying to figure out why bad things happen. We know why Job was tested, but at least in the pages of his book, he never learns the reason. God instead challenges Job to try and run the world better.
So what do we do when life hurts? In both the Old and New Testaments, a phrase is repeated: “The just shall live by faith.” While we’re plodding through life, we trust. And we discover that God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves. He enables us to persevere. He does so according to His schedule. “Faith means trusting God, even when His timing disagrees with ours” (Reeve). Faith also means striking out, with no clear end in sight, even with no clear view of our next step. “Tempting God” has been defined as “trying to get more assurance than God has given” (Newbigin).
In the Psalms, the writers prayed with gutsy honesty, complaining when God appeared distant: “Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble? How long will You hide Your face from me? (10:1, 13:1). The absence of God was a common experience over the years of Bible history. These may seem like shockingly angry prayers, yet God can handle our anger. It’s better to complain to God than to ignore or delete Him from our lives.
The Psalms also affirm God’s presence. In Ps 139 David writes, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast” (verses 7-10).