As someone who suffers from chronic pain, I have become all too familiar with the feeling of God’s silence. In repeated prayers and worn out longings, I have experienced the silence of God when my prayers went unanswered, when my body was still in pain, and when healing never came. For a long time, I believed that God was silent because he didn’t relieve me of my physical pain. I couldn’t hear him through the tears I cried because it felt like I was tossing up prayers only for them to go unnoticed by an omnipotent God. I believed that because healing didn’t come, God must be silent, and maybe even worse--forgetful, and powerless.
Maybe you are experiencing physical suffering today. Maybe you are lonely, anxious, or fearful of your future. Maybe you are in the throws of heartbreak or grief. Maybe you feel like your prayers have gone unanswered or maybe you feel like you have been waiting on God to move for years. Today, maybe you feel like you’re in a valley, a place where the voice of God seems distant and you are desperate to find him again.
When God seems silent, we often fall into the trap of believing lies about ourselves, God, and our relationship to him. When we can’t hear his voice or see him at work, our minds tell us that God has forgotten us, doesn’t love us, or isn’t even real to begin with. In the valleys, we start to wonder if God is sovereign, all powerful, or as faithful as we once believed he was. And we ask ourselves if we just aren’t “good enough” for God to answer us. These lies are real and loud, and gone without checking, God’s perceived silence can cause the valleys to become deeper, and God to seem more distant than ever before.
The silence of God is not a tale lost to Scripture either. From the Israelites calling out to him in the wilderness, to Job shaving his head, to the disciples after the crucifixion, believers for ages have experienced the silence of God. In Psalm 44, the psalmist tells God to wake up, saying “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!” (Psalm 44:23 ESV) The silence is so palpable that the psalmist tells God to awake, because like the disciples on the boat in the middle of the storm, when God seems silent, we believe the lie that he has fallen asleep to our very struggles.
Psalm 13 is one of my favorite places in the Bible because it speaks so honestly to the silence believers experience. In verse 1, the psalmist cries out and asks “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1 ESV). The psalmist repeatedly asks “How long?” because he is waiting on God. He sits in a time period where for days, weeks, months or possibly even years, he has not heard the voice of God, and he just wants to know how long God will let this continue.
Right now, you may feel the pains of waiting, too. You may be waiting on a job promotion, a spouse, a new home, or baby in your womb. When we deliver the same prayers up to God day after day and don’t get the answers we were hoping for, it is natural for us to echo this psalmist, wondering if God has forgotten about us. Waiting is often ridden with loneliness and plagued with doubt. But the truth we find in Scripture is that unanswered prayers never equate to God’s silence. His voice is not determined by our will being done on our timing. His promises do not cancel out when we find ourselves in waiting. So when God seems silent, we must ask ourselves honestly, if we have limited his voice to the scope of our own expectations.
In Psalm 62 it says that, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (Psalm 62:5 ESV). If you are waiting on his voice, abide, because joy, peace, and patience can live abundantly inside of you when you place your hope in a loving God rather than a certain outcome. We worship an all-knowing, all-loving God, who sees the whole picture of our lives and holds it carefully in his hands. In the waiting draw near, because his voice, his presence, his comfort, and his peace are closer to you than your own very breath.
The story of the Israelites seen throughout the beginning of the Old Testament is a story covered in the perceived silence of God. The Israelites have been delivered from slavery by the very hand of God, and are directed to travel through the wilderness, crossing the Red Sea, and eventually landing in the Promised Land. In Exodus 13 it says that God “went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” (Exodus 13:21-22 ESV). God entriquetly designed a pathway for the Israelites to follow, ensuring that they would be guided by day and night, no matter the elements. He promises to them his presence, his guidance, and his light to lead the path, but when the Israelites get to the Red Sea and see the army of Egyptians, those promises are quickly forgotten. The Israelites cry out to God saying, “What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt?...For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:11-12 ESV) In the face of trial, the Isralieties forget that that pillar of light and pillar of fire are still with them. They let their suffering do the talking, and the voice of God is now determined by their circumstances, rather than his promises.
Like the Israelites, many of us experience the silence of God in the midst of our own suffering. When pain encloses around us, the pillar of light we know we have in Christ seems to dim. His voice feels distant because our trials speak loud lies of unbelief, telling us that in our pain God’s voice doesn’t exist. In my own life, I have walked through months of God seeming silent when faced with a life-long diagnosis I asked him to cure. I felt like Job, crying out to God, saying, “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me.” (Job 30:20 ESV)
When God seems silent in our suffering, we must first know that we are in good company. Christ himself was regarded as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Suffering is the tale told throughout the story of the Bible, and never once did God leave his people in their pain. Our suffering does not equate to the silence of God. Our circumstances can not cancel out his voice, and our pain can not quiet our King.
When you can’t hear his voice, cry out to God like Job did. Echo David in telling God, “To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me.” (Psalm 28:1 ESV). Tell him your pains, your fears, and your griefs. Because his voice can be real and loud even when the army of suffering encloses. His pillar of light and fire will never dim in the face of your pain. Remember, repeat, and reflect the promises he has told his people from the dawn of time: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5 ESV).
After having my son, I transitioned from being a full-time teacher to a stay-at-home mom. My days, prior to becoming a mama, were often filled with busyness. Bring on a baby, a pandemic, and a new role as a stay-at-home mom, and all of the sudden my once busy, overflowing life looked a lot more simple. While so many of us experience God’s silence in the suffering and the waiting, God can also seem silent in the mundane. We may have a hard time hearing his voice in the routines, the class schedules, the regular simple life that doesn’t seem overflowing with his presence. We may wonder where his voice is between the 9 to 5 every day.
In the mundane of regular life, it can be easy to fill our minds with other voices rather than God’s. In our spare time we pick up our phones, scroll through Instagram and tap through stories, all the while we tell our friends that God seems distant. We listen to other voices—the voices of social media, the news, others around us or even our own anxious thought reel. We take in tons and tons of outside information, but never sit in silence with our King. And at the end of the day, God may have tried to speak to us ten thousand times over, but we couldn’t hear him because we were too busy listening to something else.
Isaiah 49 says this: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Isaiah 49:15-16 ESV, emphasis added) God, like a nursing mother, can never forget you. Because when he looks down at his hands he sees your name. Your thoughts, your day, your time and your footsteps are right there in front of him. He longs to speak to you and draw near to you in the routine of your 9 to 5 ordinary life. So if you can’t hear his voice in your day-to-day life, ask yourself this: what voices are you listening to other than his?
Believers, I charge you with this: make room. Make room for the voice of God wherever you are today. Push aside the clutter and make space to listen to him. Put down your phones, your remotes, your TV screens and your Instagram reels and make room for him to speak. Make room. Because I promise, the God who has your name engraved on the palm of his hand has something to say to you today.
Two thousand years ago, our God came to be with us so we could hear his voice. And as he cried out, “It is finished,” the world believed he had been silenced forever. I can only imagine how deafening the silence must have been on those 3 days where he laid in the tomb. Yet in the silence, the plan to save the world was being carried out. It was in the waiting that God was putting on the most triumphant display of his glory. It was in the suffering of Christ crucified that delivered our Almighty. Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding, because after three days of silence came a risen King, an empty tomb, and the hope of glory in our Savior, King Jesus.
Image credit: Emilee Carpenter