Thursday, June 5, 2008

He is There, and He is Not Silent

That's the title of a classic Francis Schaeffer book. It's a little heady for most of the Element community, but the subject is one fresh on their minds. Our current series is called Coffee Shop Theology, and we asked folks to submit questions/topics and then vote on the ones they most wanted to hear as messages in the series. One that made the cut is "Why does God seem silent?"

I thought I'd elaborate on this a bit more, bringing one of my responses to a commenter in this post to the main page and expanding on it a bit. Hope you don't mind the recycle.

I began my treatment of the subject by challenging the notion that God is ever silent. I acknowledged that quite frequently he doesn't speak to us the way we'd like him to or that he doesn't say what we want to hear, but neither scenario is the same thing as him not speaking at all.
What I propose is that God seems silent because he is broadcasting on a frequency that we are not tuned to receive him on.

This opened up the discussion to cover a) the ways God is speaking, and b) the reasons we don't hear him.

1) God speaks through creation.

I think one commenter on that previous post might have misunderstood me here, because with this point I wasn't trying to imply that God is whispering through the trees or that you can hear from God in a river just as well as you can from Scripture. What I mean by this point is that we are frequently tempted to doubt God's presence because we have immersed ourselves in environments and experiences that are man-made. There is a reason the wilderness is where the God stuff went down for our Scriptural forefathers.

The heavens declare the glory of God; your cubicle does not.
Matt Chandler puts it this way: "Nobody stands with a friend at the base of the Rocky Mountains and turns and says, 'Remember that time I benched 250 in high school? That was awesome.'"
When we get away from the noise of our creations and get into the wonder of God's creation, we are reminded of how incredible God is and how frail we are.

We don't hear him because creation is drowned out; we are busy listening to the noise of our own creations.

2) God speaks through pain.

The irony of this truth is that it is in our pain that we are most tempted to think God silent. In our hurt/grief/suffering, we are most tempted to doubt, to believe he has abandoned us. (And the other side of the irony is that when everything is great and peachy, we are most tempted to not care if he's there or not.)

C.S. Lewis said that pain is God's megaphone. What Lewis means is that in pain, one of the curses of the curse of the fall, God is reminding us that we are broken, that we need fixing, that we need him.

Paul talks about sharing with Christ in the fellowship of suffering, which I take to mean that when we suffer or experience pain, not only is Christ there, but we are there in Christ, being conformed to the way of the cross.
When we experience pain, God is speaking to us and telling us that something is not right. It reminds us of sin and the fall. Which is not to say that our pain is a result of our sin; I'm not saying that when something goes wrong it's because we've done something wrong (that's the prosperity gospel talking there). I only mean that pain reminds us -- vividly, tangibly -- that we are in need of redemption.

The reasons we don't often hear God speaking to us this way are because our pain is so "loud" and because we don't intuitively associate faith with brokenness.

3) God speaks through Scripture.

God speaks primarily through Scripture. And any other way we may hear God will not contradict or add to Scripture.
This point sort of goes without saying, and I was tempted to make it my only point.

I have experienced the weirdness of sitting in a small group discussion where people have lamented not hearing from God, all of us with open Bibles not eight inches from our noses.
Where this agonizing need for special revelation and the "secret, personal will of God" comes from, I don't know, but it's neo-gnostic tripe that has only exacerbated the biblical illiteracy of the Church.

We don't hear God in Scripture for a variety of reasons:
a) because we are unfamiliar with it and undisciplined
b) because we have not been raised or trained to "feel" Scripture
c) because our preachers treat Scripture like the Reader's Digest or Bartlett's Book of Quotations. They don't present Scripture as transformative and vital, but as merely informative and "helpful."
d) and perhaps most likely: because when we read Scripture, it says things uncomfortable or objectionable to ourselves and our desires. (Which by the way, means it's working.)

4) God speaks through the Gospel being lived out.

I'm not talking purely about preaching the gospel but about preaching the gospel in word and deed. I'm talking about the Beatitudes here, the entire Sermon on the Mount. I'm talking about the picture of kingdom life. Walk, not just talk.

My hunch is that if more followers of Jesus actually were transformed by the gospel of grace into, as Paul says, "ministers of reconciliation," less and less people would feel like God is silent.
Our good works glorify God in heaven. Our light should shine before all men. Imagine how loudly our world would think God to be speaking if more and more of his worshipers purposed to make the good news manifest in their cultures.

But they don't hear him and we don't hear him because we aren't really following him. We are just putting his nametag on our own ambitions and aspirations. We've settled for gospel information and not pressed further into gospel transformation.

5) God has finally spoken through His Son.

My contention is that many times our begging God to speak is done with a discontentment over or a forgetfulness of the fact that all the important things God would have us know about himself were said in the offering of himself, in the sending of his Son and the Son's atoning work.

The author of Hebrews writes, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe."

With his very words, God created everything there is out of nothing. And the new creation begins with the very Word of God becoming flesh. Jesus is the Word, the very voice and proclamation of God. And when the Word announced from the cross the words, "It is finished!," he meant it.

This has been said to God and over us, a declaration that all of our questions, our searchings, our fears, our failings, and -- most deeply, most importantly -- our sins have been spoken to, answered, shouted down by Jesus Christ.

We don't hear Jesus because we either want Jesus plus something else, or we want something else entirely.


Brian in Fresno said...


Thanks for this excellent well thought out and spelled out post. I can't tell you properly how much I appreciate you and it. Thanks, man!

Philip said...

I'm so glad you fleshed this out.

That previous reference to this concept has had me wondering...

Thank you!