You’re lonely. You’re worried. You’re frustrated. You’re desperate. You don’t know where to turn, so you call out to God. You pray your best prayers. And . . . crickets. Nothing. As far as you can tell, God is silent. He’s indifferent.
That is a perfectly logical conclusion. After all, if you told a friend all your troubles and they sat silent as a stone—no advice, no gesture of empathy, no words of encouragement—wouldn’t you wonder if they’d gone deaf, or worse, just didn’t care? What, then, are we to make of the silence of God?
When someone gives us “the silent treatment,” we run through a mental checklist: Have I offended him? Failed to keep a promise? Behaved badly? We imagine that if we can attribute the silent party’s unresponsiveness to some egregious action of our own, perhaps we can make amends and return to speaking terms. The burden, we believe, is on us.
But “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.”1 Perhaps the first error we make in understanding God’s silence is failing to understand his nature. We forget that God is not a man, and we attribute human motives and emotions to him in an attempt to explain his actions. But our ways, he says plainly, are not his ways.2
And while other human beings might predicate their responses to us on our behavior—good or bad—God does not. His behavior is an outflowing of his character, not our own. And his very nature is love.3
Silence and the Saints
“It’s not very loving,” you might say, “for someone who loves you to be silent.” But silence from God has been experienced by many devoted God-followers to whom you might assume God would never stop speaking. Even Mother Teresa wrote privately that she failed to sense God’s presence in her life for more than fifty years—an astounding confession from a woman whose love for God produced so many good works.
“Jesus has a very special love for you,” she wrote to one of her mentors, [but] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”4 Mother Teresa could not explain God’s silence, but she did not question his love—perhaps because she knew that God’s ways were not her ways.
Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers argued that “God’s silences are His answers.”5 Silence from God, therefore, may be an overture of intimacy, not a retreat from it: “Are you mourning before God because you have not had an audible response? You will find that God has trusted you in the most intimate way possible, with an absolute silence, not of despair, but of pleasure, because He saw that you could stand a bigger revelation. If God has given you a silence, praise Him, He is bringing you into the great run of His purposes.”6
From this view, God’s silence is not punishment or abandonment but an intimate gift of trust.
When All Is Quiet
So when God seems silent, what should we do? To begin with, we could use the silence as an occasion to remember the ways he has spoken in the past. When you are separated from a loved one and cannot converse, it’s common to remember conversations or moments of intimacy from your previous times together.
Instead of wondering “where God went,” consider using the perceived “lull” in communication to remember those times. Remind yourself of the moments when you keenly felt his presence, the times you believe you heard his instruction, encouragement, or affirmation. Let those memories fill the void and strengthen your faith.
As you remember, thank God for those times. Praise him, too, for his attributes, his character, his mighty acts of the past, and the ways he has been faithful to you. Let gratitude—not fear or doubt—begin to fill the emptiness you may be feeling. His character is not dependent upon your perception of him—something else for which to be thankful!
Understand that your faith is being exercised when God seems absent. During the silent times, you must trust something beyond your own feelings and emotions. “Anyone who comes to [God],” said the writer of Hebrews, “must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”7
Belief in times of silence is hard. When God is silent, we’re tempted to stop believing that he exists or that he cares. “What makes [unbelief] in many was more appealing [than belief] is that whereas to believe in something requires some measure of understanding and effort, not to believe doesn’t require much of anything at all.”8 Take the hard road. Let your faith be strengthened as you believe without seeing or hearing.
It is also important to continue to obey God—especially during those times when his presence is not felt. Don’t fall into the trap of saying, “If you’re not going to talk to me, I’m not going to try to listen to you!” So much of God’s will and instruction is given to us not individually, but corporately. Within the pages of His Word, he has said much about how he wants his people to live.
He speaks through the Bible, through other people, through his created world, and through the “still, small voice” of his Spirit. Often what we imagine as silence from God is far from it. Obey what he has already said, and you will be poised to hear even more from him.
Remember. Praise. Obey. Repeat.
“I’ve done all these things,” you might say. “Doesn’t God owe me proof of his presence now? Doesn’t he have something just for me?” No. And yes.
No, he does not owe us proof that he is. (He gives us this in many ways, but it is not owed.) What we are due on the basis of our performance is, thankfully, not what he gives those of us who put our trust in Christ.
He offers grace to the person who confesses their shortcomings and asks for mercy. He gives himself to those who ask. Yes, he does have something just for you. If his voice is not clear, if his plan is not plain—keep doing the things you know. Keep remembering his goodness and love. Keep praising him. Keep obeying as much of his will as you know.
And as you focus on these things, keep the ear of your heart tuned God-ward. You will hear his voice again. Until then, receive the silence. It teaches, too.
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Numbers 23:19.
- Ibid., Isaiah 55:8.
- Ibid., 1 John 4:8.
- David Van Biema, “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith” Time, August 23, 2007.
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Deluxe Christian Classics) (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2000), 207.
- The Holy Bible, Hebrews 11:6.
- Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, (San Francisco: HarperSanFranciso, 1992), 218.
- Photo Credit: Branislav Jovanović / Stocksy.com.