Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dark silences: Where is God when there is no comfort?

I'm studying my text for tomorrow's sermon: Luke 3:1-18. I am struck by words I usually skip over in this text. They are found in verse 2: "the word of God came to John."

So many times we read in the Old Testament of an absence of a word from God. The Psalmists often cry out for God not to be silent. Yet, as the ministry of John is introducing the Kingdom coming in Jesus, God is breaking what has been a 400 year period of silence. "...the word of God came to the desert."

I typically think God's word comes to his people when they are desperate to hear it. Yet, that is not necessarily true. Abraham had a promise, and then decades of waiting. Moses had a call, then forty years of ranching in Midian with seemingly no further attention from "the comforter." Mother Teresa's life ended with years of agonizing emptiness and silence from God. Martin Luther knew silence: "Bless us Lord, even curse us, but don't remain silent." St. John of the Cross wrote of the Dark Night of the Soul. Jesus, feeling no promise, and soon God's absence (My God, why have you forsaken me?), went to the cross out of sync with his Father ("Not what I will but your will be done...") Evidently, human longing and desperation do not force God into communication mode.

There is a saying: "It's often dark at the foot of the lighthouse." Hmmm.

I will say that I have known years of dear closeness to the word of God. And I also see myself as largely a failure in the decade and a half of the "dark night" of God's apparent silence. I have to agree with a converted Turkish Muslim (Ziya Meral) who notes that two-thirds of all Christian martyrs since the first century, were killed in the twentieth century. He wonders: "Where is God when millions of his children are being persecuted in the most brutal ways? Why does he keep silent in the middle of persecution, but speak loudly in the middle of conferences with famous speakers and worship bands?" Having chosen the narrow way, it seems faithful pilgrims are often left to their stalwart and faithful obedience, without the comfort of God's evident presence or comfort. Meral again quotes Luther: "God often, as it were, hides himself, and will not hear; yeah, will not suffer himself to be found."

I am looking forward to teaching from Luke tomorrow. And I'm not sure whether I should be encouraged by the fact that God's very faint speaking has been heard in my spirit again this week. And my last few days have been as low and difficult as any I've lived for a while.

Praying that I may be faithful in the days before me, and with the tasks at hand.


Mark said...

My dear friend who I love and have so much in common with, may the one who gives us strength, peace, love and amazing grace be with us as we journey right where we are. I pray for us both to lean on Him in the silence, to draw comfort in the fact that He promises us He never leaves us in the midst of it all. Thanking God for you as I do each day. I am a blessed man because of you.

Zee said...

the silent treatment is the toughest thing ever (and i guess i am not the only one who feels that way, considering your post)... and i'm 100% there with Luther that i would rather be yelled at than left by myself to think what's happened...

keep on going, my friend. the lighthouse is just a few steps away.

Zee said...

my reflections on "where is God?"