Silence

— Henry Neufeld

[reprinted from March 4, 2009, with permission]

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?
My God, I cry in the daytime, but you don’t answer;
in the night season, and [I] am not silent.
But you are holy,
you who inhabit the praises of Israel.
Our fathers trusted in you.
They trusted, and you delivered them.
They cried to you, and were delivered.
They trusted in you, and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm, and no man;
a reproach of men, and despised by the people.  — Psalm 22:1-6 (WEB)

The passage I quoted above is best known by Christians because of the cry of Jesus on the cross.  It is encouraging to many to realize that even Jesus, as close as he was to the Father, as himself God, felt that sense of silence and abandonment on the cross.  At the same time, Psalm 22 is a prayer that has been prayed by many, and can and will be prayed by many as long as we live on this earth.

The sensation of aloneness and abandonment can come when one is truly alone, or when one is in a crowd.  My greatest sense of aloneness came not when I was actually alone, but when I was in a large crowd at a speaking engagement overseas.  There was a tension with the leadership (later resolved, praise God!) and I had nobody that I knew.  There was a sense of complete silence in the middle of the noise.

In that case I turned to prayer, and the Lord put in my mind the number of intercessors and prayer warriors who had committed to back me up for the occasion.  Suddenly in the midst of that room I felt surrounded by the presence of God.  It was still silent, but a completely different sort of silence–a presence.  I was reminded of this in my morning devotions today as I read from Genesis 17:22, which could be translated literally “God got (or went) up from upon Abraham.”  Perhaps you have felt that God was “on” you, physically like a weight.

Ezekiel experienced this aloneness in Babylon.  It’s not accidental that his book starts with a vision, and the major message is not even the contents of the vision, though that is wonderful enough, but rather in the simple fact that he is in Babylon, in exile, away from God’s land, and yet he sees the vision and God appears to him.  Try reading Ezekiel 1, imagining yourself carried away far from home, in a prison camp perhaps, and let the picture form in your mind.  The key message?  “Ezekiel, you may be far from home, but I am not far from you.”

So what makes us feel far from God?  Is God really silent?  I’d like to go back to the radio analogy.  I’ve been involved in radio and electronics since before I could read or write.  I’m at least as comfortable with a soldering iron as with a pencil or pen.  There are so many lessons one can learn about communication.

What can keep you from hearing a signal?  What can keep you from getting a message.  Briefly here are some ideas from radio and the way I think they might apply spiritually.  Think about them.  You might think of many other applications.

  1. There might not be a signal.  Believe it or not, communication requires at least two communicators.  If God wants you to experience silence, you can do whatever you want, but you will experience God’s silence.  Remember:  God is more interested in producing character than in providing comfort.
  2. The signal might be very weak.  Would God send me a weak signal?  I think so.  We think of a weak signal as a negative thing, but in Amateur Radio I encountered a group of people who make a hobby of communicating with the lowest power possible.  Amongst other things, this practice builds up one’s skills in other areas.  I recall completing a Morse Code communication from Georgetown, Guyana with a station in Iceland who was using 300 milliwatts of power.  We took ages communicating just the minimum, and it had to happen in just the right conditions, but we succeeded, and it felt great!  Remember:  character or comfort?
  3. There can be interference.  Interference can come because a receiver is not well enough focused.  It can come because someone else is inadvertently transmitting on the same frequency or nearby.  On the other hand, someone might be interfering intentionally.  Have you ever encountered a person who presents a good thought, but does it at the wrong time?  They may not even know.  Listening to God involves your focus, and your ability to reject the interfering signals.
  4. I remember one conversation in my earlier days in radio in which someone kept telling me that my signal was good, but he kept missing the things I was saying.  Then he’d ask me to repeat.  Ask yourself whether you are doing this to God.  He’s given you his whole creation to bear witness, he’s given you his word, he’s provided you with brothers and sisters in the faith, and he’s given you a mind and a conscience.  Is it possible that you already know the answer, yet are still asking God to repeat it over and over?

Those are just a few thoughts.  I may fill in sometime soon with various ideas about how God can communicate.  But for now, if you think God is silent, are you really listening to the silence?

[Due apologies and credit to Simon and Garfunkel, “Sound of Silence”]

 

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