When God is Silent

(John 11:1-22)

Well, we're now five weeks into our journey to the cross; a journey we take every year in preparation for Easter and its eternal hallelujah. And I've found that it's at about week five we begin to realize that the journey to the cross isn't an easy one, because it means facing the reality of death; not only the death of Jesus, but our own death and the death of friends and loved ones. And this journey we're on has a deep importance for our faith, as Jesus death and resurrection takes on more significance for us.

Many of us here today have faced the death of a friend or loved one. In some cases we were present with them when they died. And even when death was expected it still wasn't easy. Even for Christian's who realize death is not the end but a new beginning, death still has a sting of sorts. And now during Lent as we walk with Christ to his death we are reminded of our own mortality.

Many of us have known people who were very ill or in a great deal of discomfort before they eventually died. During the time we were with them perhaps we spent a great deal of time praying that God would heal them. We wanted God to intervene and restore the person we cared for to wholeness.

We may have remembered that scripture tells us to "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Matt 7:7) But nothing! It seemed no matter how hard or how much we prayed God just remained silent. And so we asked ourselves "why?" "Did I do something wrong?" "Why do some people get healed and others not?" "Does God even care?"

Well the truth is, no matter how spiritual we are, no matter how long we've been a Christian, there are times when God answers prayers by just being silent. Sometimes God's silences are His answers.

This was the experience of Mary and Martha as they sent for Jesus because they knew Jesus could heal Lazarus, only to have Jesus decide he would "stay where he was two more days." (John 11:6) Jesus remained silent to Mary and Martha's request. At that moment I imagine Mary and Martha were not only upset, but felt abandoned in their time of great need. Jesus felt distant and uncaring to them, perhaps for the first time since they had known them.

Just think how Mary and Martha must have felt during those days of absolute silence in their home at Bethany following Lazarus death, where again God seemed to remain silent in the midst of deep grief! Can you think of a time in your life that's analogous to those days in Bethany? Have there been days in your life where God just seemed to be distant and uncaring, times when God just seemed silent and aloof?

If you're anything like me, I suspect there have probably been days when you've just sat in a chair following the death of someone you've known, just thinking, questioning, and just kind of zoning out. We can find ourselves wondering, not only where is God in all of this, but is there something more I could have or should have done. The questions come fast, yet the answers seem to come slow or be absent all together.

So how do we respond when this happens in our life? How will we make it through these most difficult times? What are we going to do when God remains silent, in affect saying "No" or "Not yet" to our deepest desires?

Well this morning I want to share some advice from the Bible on how to address or deal with those times when God does remain silent.

First we ought to treat the tough times as a gift from God. Now I have to say this advice is easier given than done, but it's what God asks us to do. James (1:2-3) says, "Consider it sheer joy my friends, when ever you face trials of many kinds because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance."

As we know there are all kinds of ways to deal with the trials and troubles we encounter in our lives. We can ignore them and pretend the problem doesn't exist or that given enough time it will just go away.

In all honesty I tend to use this method every time Susan tells me there's something wrong with the computer at home. "What problem," I'd say?

Then I think to myself, because I learned the hard way several years ago not to speak these words aloud, "the real problem is, you just don't know how to use the computer."

But sometimes the problem Susan is encountering with the computer is real and needs to be dealt with. Again, I've learned the hard way that not all computer problems can be ignored. And this is true of all problems sometimes the problems we encounter need to be confronted and dealt with and not just pushed under a rug somewhere.

Other people treat problems or trials as a punishment to be endured. They identify some sin in their own lives and say, "I'm just getting what I deserve, so I'll just grin and bear it." But honestly this guilt ridden attitude isn't very helpful either.

Certainly there are consequences of sin and consequences for the decisions we and others make, but not every problem or trial we face is a result of sin or poor decision-making. We live in a fallen world, things happen, problems and trials come up and the challenges we face can come from many different sources. So don't allow yourself and others to use condemnation to drive you into a life full of guilt. This resolves no problem and it's not the way of God. God's way is forgiveness and new life.

Still others see problems as a battle to be waged. It's time to fight, even when it means fighting against God. And sometimes we blame God for the problems and challenges we face, we don't take responsibility for our own actions, and we walk around being miserable and cynical about life. And then we sometimes get upset that we blamed God and begin to wonder if God's going to punish us. But God is bigger than this, rather than punish, he will help us understand.

Has anyone ever experienced any of these scenarios I've mentioned, either personally or perhaps know of someone who has?

Again, the Bible says that the trials that come into our lives are sheer joy. It's hard to believe that trials can be joy-filled, but if we believe what Paul says, "…in all things God works for the good of those who love him," (Rom 8:28) then perhaps we can begin to understand where the trials of life can be used by God to strengthen our faith.

Now we might not realize this truth when were going through a difficult time, but as we look back perhaps we can see how God used this moment in our life to help us grow spiritually or to get us back on the right path. Or perhaps the growth occurs as we use spiritual hind-sight when we reflect on the past and what happened.

The second piece of advice I want to share with you comes from the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians, "Be joyful; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (5:16-18) Unfortunately the first response many of us have when God doesn't come through with the answer we want to our prayers is to just give up and stop praying.

Perhaps we feel our prayer is falling on deaf ears since nothing seems to be changing, or we feel we're praying wrong, we're not using the right words, or we're praying for the wrong thing. But none of this is true. Prayer is an informal conversation, a dialogue we have with God. Prayer is all about praising God, telling him what's going on with our life, and asking for him to help. It's a conversation that comes from the heart.

When we pray we ought to, in a very authentic way, humble ourselves before the Lord, confess our sin and shortcomings, and bow spiritually before God. The Bible teaches that, "God mocks proud mockers, but gives grace to the humble." (Proverbs 3:34) Now this doesn't mean God will no longer be silent if we're more humble when we pray, but what I've found in my prayer life is that acknowledging who God is and naming his place in my life tends to place me in the proper spiritual posture for prayer. I know when I pray with humility rather than with a demanding arrogance my prayer takes on a different tone, and my heart is more contrite.

Have you ever heard the acronym PUSH? It means Pray Until Something Happens, but still we must realize the answer may still be "No." There is nothing we can do to guarantee we will get the kind of answer to prayer that we want, but we ought to pray continually.

There's a story about a little boy who lost his baseball glove. He asked his Sunday school teacher if they could have a prayer to help him find it. The next Sunday the teacher asked the little boy if God had helped him find his glove. He answered, "No ma'am, but God did take away my desire for it." You see when God is silent He gives us the faith to accept His silence.

When God doesn't heal a person dying he does give us the faith to accept the death, realizing again that for Christians death is not the end, and in some cases like it was for my father, death came as a blessing as he was freed from all the pain he was experiencing, he was actually healed by death and my hope is he now lives with the Lord.

Now I'm not suggesting our grief and pain of loss are diminished, just that the acceptance and understanding of what has happened is strengthened; our faith becomes stronger, and the confidence we have in God's promises intensifies our hope.

The third piece of advice I offer is that when God is silent we ought to remember all the times when God has spoken to us, those times when His answer has been swift and clear. Even though Mary and Martha were upset with Jesus, Martha still ran out to meet Jesus when she heard he was coming. Martha remembered the times God had spoken through Jesus and she remembered the miracles Jesus had preformed as an answer to a request or prayer, if you will. She never lost faith and said, "I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." (John 11:22)

We don't know God's plan, we don't know when God will be "vocal" and when God will be "silent." But what we do know is that God is always present with us and experiences all that we experience.

  • When we struggle, God struggles along side us.
  • When we grieve, God grieves as well.
  • When we feel empty, God knows and feels our emptiness.

At the end of worship we'll be singing My Hope Is Built. I read somewhere this week that the first time this hymn was sung, it was at the bedside of a dying woman. The words of the second verse spoke to this woman in such a profound way that she held a copy of the hymn in her hands and held the words of this hymn in her heart until she died. These are the words: "When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."

Perhaps sung another way, "When silence comes to god's face, we can count on his unchanging grace, no matter what storms come our way God our anchor will not lead us astray, On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."

I want to encourage you to read the Book of Psalms and listen to the writer's struggle with their own questions about prayer and feelings towards a God who seems far away and silent at times. Listen to them complain about the fact that when they most needed to see God's face, his face seemed to be hidden from them. And then listen to them find confidence in the promise of God's love, and the assurance that God will never change, no matter how much our world is changing around us. His grace remained steadfast and sure.

These are the same promises we can hold onto, and we too can have the assurance that God will never forsake us. God is with us always.

My brothers and sisters, God will not grant our every prayer request. He will not take away our every pain. There will be times when he remains silent, even in times of our deepest struggles. But He will always be there to embrace us in His arms of love, to wipe away our tears, and to give us the strength and hope we need for another day. Amen.

The resources that inspired and/or were used in part in the preparation of this sermon include:
 The Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible

Read other messages by Pastor Wade