God speaks. And when he speaks, things happen. Worlds come into existence. Hearts are changed. Lives transformed. A person’s path goes this way rather than that way. Indeed, God’s Word became flesh and blood. God spoke himself into his creation. Jesus is God speaking his salvation into our circumstances. In these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.
But sometimes God’s voice seems to dwindle to a barely audible whisper. Listen though we might, our ears seem greeted by silence. That “Sweet Hour of Prayer” becomes a monologue. We find ourselves longing for those occasions when God’s word was not only something we read but something we heard.
Such times remind us that our relationship with God, however personal and intimate, remains in some ways inscrutable mystery. God knows us perfectly; we know God only by what he has revealed. Surely, however, what God has revealed of himself is not exhaustive of his being, of what there is to know about him.
When our experience of God falls short of the expectations we have, expectations which are themselves a mix of what God has revealed, our own hopes and desires, and what the world impresses on us, it might very well be God is testing our faith. Do you trust me, believe me, follow me, even when I seem distant?
I have met people who appear to rely on emotional experiences in connection to worship and prayer, who base their security in their relationship with God upon how they feel during times of personal and corporate worship. Feelings rather than faith is their guide. Emotions becomes how they hear God’s voice. For people like this, times when God withdraws his presence, their lives fall apart. Their faith begins to quake under their feet.
Plenty of people in the Bible experienced the absence of God. I think of Job, the psalmists, Jeremiah, and even Jesus on the cross and his cry of dereliction. For those who wonder where God is sometimes, they are not alone. Indeed, taking Jesus’ experience on the cross seriously involves recognizing that God identifies with us in our feelings of forsakenness.
The truth is that God has promised never to leave or forsake us. Jesus told his disciples that he would be with them until the end of the age. So even when we experience the absence of God, it doesn’t mean God has abandoned us.
It’s possible we might never know why we experience silence on God’s part. What we can know is that even when we go through such periods God is trustworthy and, despite our immediate experience, present. Whatever other words God speaks, these words, that he is still with us and loves us, are the ones he always speaks clearly.