When God is Silent, Words of Endurance

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrow, and familiar with suffering.
Isaiah 53:3

When we suffer, when we feel abandoned in our pain, it can be so hard for us to know that God is with us or that He cares about our pain. Yet the Bible loudly proclaims the truth that God is with us, that we, in fact, cannot be separated from His love. Throughout the Scriptures, we read that He cares about us more than we can imagine.

But God does not leave us with merely the cold, objective fact of His love. He is with us in our suffering not only by virtue of His divine presence but also by virtue of the fact that He, too, has suffered. Thus, He shares in our pain because He, too, is a fellow sojourner through the valley of suffering.

How do we know this is true? We look at Jesus. Philip Yancey, in his book, When Life Hurts, describes Jesus as “the historical fact of how God responded to pain on earth. He gives the up-close and personal side of God’s response to human suffering. All our doubts about God and suffering should, in fact, be filtered through what we know about Jesus….The fact that Jesus came and suffered and died does not remove pain from our lives. Nor does it guarantee that we will always feel comforted. But it does show that God did not sit idly by and watch us suffer alone. He joined us and in His life on earth endured far more pain than most of us ever will.”

William Fintel, M.D. and Gerald McDermott, Ph.D., in their book, Dear God, It’s Cancer, have observed what Jesus reveals about God’s intimate involvement with us in suffering. They write:

Many Christians who have felt abandoned by God in their suffering have been comforted by remembering that even Jesus felt that way in His time of greatest stress. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He cried out while hanging naked on the cross. Jesus, too, discovered that in His supreme hour of pain God denied His agonized requests for relief. The Gospel writers portrayed Him sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before His brutal scourging and crucifixion. He pleaded three times with God to “take this cup away from me.” And no sooner had He finished praying the third time than Judas and a contingent of soldiers appeared. His desperate appeal had been denied! God was going to abandon Him to the fullest rigors of agonizing death.

…Jesus’ crucifixion shows above all else the suffering heart of God. The Bible says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and that Jesus was God – the Word – made flesh. If Jesus was God in human form, God Himself experienced the act of supreme human suffering – hanging naked on the cross, with gnats and flies crawling over His wounds and soldiers mocking and spitting – for the sake of drawing us to Him.

If the cross was where God chose to reveal Himself most clearly, to perform His supreme saving act in human history, then we have a God who suffers. If God chose to reveal Himself in a man who was “acquainted with grief,” then we have a God who suffers. In fact, suffering appears at the very heart of who and what God is.

…If God in Christ suffered on the cross – then we cannot so readily accuse God of injustice when He allows us or our loved ones to be afflicted with pain…The God who cried out in pain when nails were driven through His wrists and ankles shares our pain and enters into our sorrows with His compassionate love.

As C.S. Lewis put it, we can know that, like a schoolteacher teaching a child how to print, God is holding our hand as we try to trace the difficult letters. Because we are following the example of a suffering God, our script need only be a copy, not an original. He can help us endure our pain because he suffered before us and still suffers with us.

Quote portions of this article from: Dear God, It’s Cancer, by William Fintel, M.D. and Gerald McDermott, Ph. D., Word Publishing, and When Life Hurts, by Philip Yancey. Multnomah Publishers, Inc. Used by permission.


When God is Silent, Words of Endurance

There are many ways we get to know people. We get to know them by intimate, face-to-face and eye-to-eye conversation. We get to know them by seeing how they relate to other people – how they smile when they play with a child, how they speak when they resolve a conflict. We get to know them by the way they leap into the air when the home team scores, by the way they sit down at the end of a long day. We can get to know them by what they read and what amuses them. We get to know them by observing what delights them, what angers them, and what saddens them. By getting to know a person, we learn whether or not we can trust that person.

It is no different in our relationship with God. Sometimes we find it difficult to trust Him simply because we don’t know Him very well. Yet the Bible is overflowing with images and portraits of God. On page after page of Scripture, God reveals Himself – who He is, how He loves, what He hates. Sometimes we see Him interacting with people. Sometimes we discover who He is by what He says. At other times we see Him through the eyes of His followers. Sometimes God thunders in anger. At other times He overflows with delight. From the Bible, we have collected a mini-gallery of snapshots of God. We hope these images will help you know Him better so that you can trust Him more fully, even during your darkest hours.

God describes Himself as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abound in love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:5-6).

God loves thousands and forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin. He executes sure and perfect justice (Exodus 34:7).

God is spirit, the essence and breath of life itself. He is supernatural; He is not material. Thus, He is our source of life and resting place (John 4:24; John 7:37-39).

God is light, and there is no trace of darkness or shadow of Him. So we can find Him even during our times of darkness (James 1:17; 1 John 1:5).

God is a consuming fire and is determines to rid the universe of evil. So we must walk in reverence and humility before Him (Psalm 97:3-10; Hebrews 12:29).

God is omnipresent, filling the universe in all its parts, so we are never alone (Psalm 139:7-10; Jeremiah 23:24).

God is sovereign, so He is the supreme authority. Nothing surprises Him. Nothing sneaks by Him. He is in control, therefore we can trust Him (1 Chronicles 29:12; Ephesians 1:11).

God is omnipotent, so He is all-powerful. He will do whatever He wills, and He wills to love us and rescue us from our sins (Job 42:2; Matthew 19:26).

God is omniscient, so He knows all things – past, present, and future – perfectly (Psalm 139:1-6; Hebrews 4:13).

God is holy, pure, and has perfect moral integrity. He keeps His promises, doesn’t lie, and has no questionable attributes (Isaiah 6:1-6; Hebrews 6:18).

God is immutable, meaning he hasn’t, won’t and can’t change. So we can cling to Him when everything else is shaky (Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17).

God alone is truly good. He displays His goodness in everything He does, so we can trust Him heart even when we don’t understand His ways (Psalm 34:8; Nahum 1:7).

God is merciful and compassionate. He rescues, guides, forgives, and comforts us (Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

God is gentle. He acts tenderly toward His children, especially when they are weak and afflicted (Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 11:29).

God is so deep, vast, mysterious, and awesome that we can’t begin to understand Him in this life (Isaiah 40:27-28; 1 Corinthians 13:12).

God is love and is loving toward all that He has made. His love is greater than we can imagine (Psalm 103:11; Psalm 145:17; John 3:16; Ephesians 3:16-19).


Faith, Trust, When God is Silent, Words of Endurance

Suffering often distorts our perception of God. C.S. Lewis, when he was grieving his wife’s death, wrote that God “seemed to have his eyes shut, his ears stopped with wax.” After going through a crisis of faith, during which he doubted all that he had ever believed about God and Christ, Lewis went on to observe that “you can’t see anything properly when your eyes are blurred with tears.”

Despite the numbing deafness and blindness brought on my suffering, God doesn’t change. He is still present. He is still reaching out, still speaking His love to us. But He may be speaking in a way that we don’t expect. So consider the different ways God speaks to us. Perhaps you’ll discover that He has been speaking all along.

God can Speak in a Still, Small Voice

The prophet Elijah had seen God work in mighty ways, and, as we sometimes do, expected God to speak with a thunderous voice. When his life was threatened by a vengeful queen and God seemed to do nothing, Elijah gave up all hope. God found him hiding in a mountain cave and said,”‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave” (1 Kings 19:11-3). Elijah recognized the quiet whisper as the voice of God, and he listened as God spoke to him and told him what to do next.

God can speak through His Spirit

God’s spirit has always been God’s mouthpiece to those who follow Him. In the Old Testament we read, “O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you…Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it'” (Isaiah 30:19-21). And in John 16:13, Jesus made a solemn promise to His disciples: “But when he, the Spirit of truth. He will no speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”

God Can Speak Through His Word

“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

God’s primary way of speaking to us is through His Word. Scripture is more than simply words on paper. Hebrews 4:12 says is alive and powerful. When we read it, God can speak to us through a story or a passage, confirming our direction, challenging our thinking, correcting our behavior, or encouraging us in our struggles.

God Can Speak Through His People

“Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:9).

When we feel that God is distant, when He seems silent, He may send us physical and tangible proof that He not only hears us but is actively working to meet our greater need for love and encouragement. How does He do this? He does it through the Body of Christ, through the hands and feet, the hugs and tears of His children. God knows that we need His love and grace more than we need His answers. That’s why His followers are commanded to “use whatever gift [they have] received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).

God Can Speak Through His Creation

The awesome beauty and complexity of God’s creation has always testified of His greatness and love. Job 36:26-37:5 gives us just a glimpse of how God speaks through His creation. “How great is God – beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out. He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams; the clouds pour down their moisture and abundant showers fall on mankind. Who can understand how he spreads out the clouds, how he thunders from his pavilion? See how he scatters his lightning about him, bathing the depths of the sea. This is the way he governs the nations and provides food in abundance. He fills his hands with lightning and commands it to strike its mark. His thunder announces the coming storm; even the cattle make known its approach. At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place. LIsten! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth. He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth. After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back. God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.”

God Can Speak Through Circumstances

Sometimes the events of life are a visible testimony to what God is doing. Jesus told His disciples to “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31 [italics added]).


Anxiety, Love, Peace, When God is Silent, Words of Endurance

by Amanda S. Sorenson

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23

Next to the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm is perhaps the most familiar passage in the Bible. Children memorize it. Composers set it to music. Commentators explain its deeper meanings. And for many, it provides great comfort during times of suffering. People who have endured great physical or emotional pain often tell how they have repeated the phrases “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…The Lord is my Shepherd…” during their times of trial. Sometimes those are the only words our pain-wracked minds can form.

Sometimes our familiarity with this Psalm dulls our senses to its true meaning. I have found this to be true of my experience. In fact, I recently discovered an image buried in the middle of that wonderful Psalm that gave me a whole new picture of God’s presence in the midst of my suffering.

At the time, I felt utterly abandoned by God. I could not feel His presence. I could not seem to reach Him with my prayers. Even His Word had grown cold. I felt frustrated by His apparent lack of concern for my well-being. But when I read R.C. Sproul’s commentary on David’s description of what it is like to go through the valley of the shadow of death, my picture changed. Let me share what Sproul writes.

The valley of the shadow of death. It is a valley where the sun’s rays often seem to be blotted out. To approach it is to tremble. We would prefer to walk around it, to seek a safe bypass. But men and women of faith can enter that valley without fear. David told us how:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

David was a shepherd. In this psalm, David puts himself in the place of the sheep. He sees himself as a lamb under the care of the Great Shepherd. He enters the valley without fear for one overarching reason: the Shepherd goes with him. He trusts himself to the care and the protection of the Shepherd.
…We have a Shepherd who cannot fall. We have a Shepherd who cannot die. He is no hireling who abandons his flock at the first sign of trouble. Our Shepherd is armed with omnipotent force. He is not threatened by the valley of shadows. He created the valley. He redeems the valley.
David’s confidence was rooted in the absolute certainty of the presence of God. He understood that…God will not send us where He refuses to go Himself.

Did you see it too? David’s God wasn’t far away in heaven, David’s God was right next to him! David’s God walked by his side as he stepped through that dark and terrifying valley. David’s God was ready to do whatever was necessary to keep him from harm.

David did not, as I did, call out to a God who was far away, shrouded in heaven’s bliss and hope that He would hear his cry and answer before he perished. David could reach out and grasp onto the Shepherd at any time because the Shepherd was with him – walking beside him, close enough to touch. The Shepherd’s presence was David’s refuge and strength, and by virtue of the Shepherd’s immediate presence, the terror of the valley could be conquered.

The fact that David’s God is also my God has encouraged me to look for Him and to trust that He is, indeed, with me. I no longer see myself walking through the valley alone, I intentionally see my God and Savior fully armed and walking beside me. And that gives me hope.


Grief, Trust, When God is Silent, Words of Endurance

For people of faith, the bleak and barren times when we feel overwhelmed by Gods silence are rarely fruitless. Those who have endured suffering and have struggled to hear God’s voice or to feel His presence in the midst of it, usually find an unexpected prize. Listen for a moment to the testimonies of two such sojourners as they proclaim the truth that shines through the silence.

For feelings come and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God,
Naught else is worth believing.

Through all my heart should feel condemned
For want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than myheart
Whose word cannot be broken.

I’ll trust in God’s unchanging Word
‘Till soul and body sever,
For, Though all things shall pass away,
His Words shall stand forever.
Martin Luther

Let me tell you about myself. When I suffer, I can never see an end to my trials. And when relief comes, I am so suspicious that the suffering is not really over that I hesitate to accept my rest. It seems to me that to accept both “good” and “bad” seasons alike is to be truly fruitful. Accept both comfort and correction from the hand of God.

Of course, this is all very easy for me to say to you, but I want you to know that I cringe at the very thought of the cross coming to work in me. I am not telling you that experiencing the cross will be easy. Outwardly it will be difficult, but inwardly it can be worse – a time of agone and dryness. If I sound a bit pessimistic, it is because I am writing to you in the midst of a spiritual dry spell. I don’t know what tomorrow brings. God will do what seems good to Him. Sometimes what He wants is hard to accept. Listen to God – there is true freedom, peace, and joy in Him.

Reprinted from The Seeking Heart, by Fenelon. Used by permission of SeedSowers Publishing.


Grief, Trust, When God is Silent, Words of Endurance

In my alarm I said, “I am cut off from your sight!” Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help….Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.
Psalm 31:22, 24

Dave’s comeback, his return to the pitching mound after having more than half of his arm muscles removed, was a wild ride full of excitement, emotion, and gratitude toward God. Even when Dave broke his arm and tumbled from the mound, we basked in the glow of God’s presence. Despite the setback, we could see God working. We didn’t know what the future held, but we knew God was in it. So we praised God and enjoyed all the warm, fuzzy feelings that go along with it. It was great!

I remember sensing God’s presence and love so strongly during that time that I thought my faith was unshakable. I never could have guessed how wrong I was. Just one year later, almost to the day that we had experienced such a wonderful feeling of God’s presence and wondered how we could ever doubt God, I could not feel God’s presence at all. Dave had endured two more surgeries and two courses of radiation treatment. My father had died. A friend had committed suicide. I was crippled by severe clinical depression and had become a prisoner in my home because of anxiety attacks. My mind felt like a rusty computer. God didn’t make sense to me anymore. It was even difficult to comprehend the Bible when I read it.

I can still remember the day when the burden of God’s silence overwhelmed me. Dave and the kids were gone, and I stood in our living room alone. This really stinks! I thought, Was it just a year ago that I felt You so strongly? And now I don’t see or feel You at all! When I tried to envision God, I could see absolutely nothing. It was as if an impenetrable cloud was suspended between us.

I half prayed, I can’t believe I believed what I once believed! My experience is the opposite of what I felt a year ago. A year ago You were telling me that You were going to do great works in my life, but right now it does not look good, I can’t feel You. I see no evidence of You around me. Both David and I are at the end of ourselves. We have no strength, no energy. There is nothing!

During that crisis of faith, I turned to walk away from God. I had been a Christian for nine years, and this was the first time I had thought of turning away. In order to turn away from God, however, I had to turn toward something else. So I started thinking of what I could do to escape the pain and emptiness I felt inside.

Many people who find themselves in situations similar to mine turn to drugs, alcohol, or a sexual affair to escape the pain. I love David and I really wasn’t interested in an affair. Drugs weren’t even a choice for me. I don’t know why I didn’t turn to alcohol, but I didn’t. I began considering other things I would like to do.

I thought I might buy myself a new wardrobe. No. Better yet, I’d buy myself a new car. No. I would join the country club and take up tennis. Then I realized that everything I wanted to turn to was only a temporary solution. The thrill of a new outfit is over after you wear it one time. The thrill of a new car lasts a little bit longer, but it, too, fades. And the body gets old so it’s impossible to play tennis forever. It didn’t take too long for me to realize that everything I could turn toward had no meaning, no hope, no nothing!

Then I turned back to God and thought, So you’re asking me to walk with You even though I see no evidence of You. You’re asking me to walk with You solely on the basis that I know You are the only hope I have in the world. You’re asking me to walk with You simply because Your Word promises that You alone are my eternal hope.

I had learned enough of the Bible to know that God’s word was the truth. It had proven itself true in my life over and over again. As I considered what I knew to be true, I realized that I actually believed what I had said I believed! I didn’t have the feeling I wanted to have, but I did have the truth! So I turned to God and asked Him to please hold true to His promises.

My desire to seek out truth led me to study the Word of God and learn as much as I could. I gained wisdom through my study of the Scriptures. They became alive to me even though I felt dead. I wish I could say that all of the warm fuzzies came back right away, but they didn’t. They didn’t come for at least another year.

As I immersed myself in the Scriptures, I discovered all kinds of people who endured a wilderness experience before God used them in a mighty way. They had all gone through dark nights of faith when they didn’t feel God, didn’t hear Him, didn’t see Him, and doubted Him. It seemed that people who were used by God were first sent out into the desert. I now believe those experiences take place so that we learn to trust the Word of God rather than our feelings. Feelings change so much, but God’s Word does not change.

I think of the time Jesus taught in the synagogue at Capernaum and presented Himself as coming from the Father in Heaven. It was a difficult teaching for the Jews and His disciples to understand, and it was even more difficult to accept. Some of His followers actually left Him because of it. At that point, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked them if they were going to leave Him as well. “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God'” (John 6:68)!

When we face a crisis of faith when God’s voice seems to fall silent and His presence is nowhere to be found, we are in the same position. We may want to run from God, but we can’t! Why? It is not because we have the feeling of God’s presence, but because we know God’s truth.

I now gain hope by knowing that learning to trust God when we can’t see or hear Him is part of the spiritual journey – that others have gone before me and have proven God faithful. That’s why I have received such great comfort when I have read the psalms of David. David felt the same way I did. He doubted God. He wondered where God was. He was miserable. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart and continually reminded himself of the truth of God’s Word. Read David’s words as recorded in Psalm 73:21-28.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge.

As I journeyed through the dark valley of God’s silence, I did the same thing David did. I went back to the Word and remembered God’s promises. I remembered the times when I felt filled by His spirit when I felt His presence. I remembered that my faith wasn’t dependent upon my feelings; it was dependent upon the word of God.

The beautiful thing that came out of that time of unbearable silence is that I got to know God in a totally different way. I trusted the Scriptures and learned that God is true to His promises. I went in as a skeptic, as one who felt that God’s promises were true for everyone else but not for me. I came out with a totally different joy that I would have had before. I learned that I could trust God even when I couldn’t see, feel, or hear Him.

The Scriptures tell us that the midst of suffering, our faith will be tested: “In this, you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7). It is during those dry, lonely times of silence that what we believe is put to the test and we discover what we really believe. Although it is a painful process, the outcome can be priceless.