When God is Silent
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.