When God Is Silent

I was asked for help a couple of days ago by a believer that I know walks with Christ and whom I know seeks the Father’s will from time spent in scripture and prayer.  The request was for a close family member who has been trying to find employment.  The concern expressed in her request was twofold:  (1) that her family member’s faith was starting to waver because of the length of time it apparently is taking for God to answer her requests and her need for employment, and (2) that she (the believer that requested help) wasn’t hearing from God through the Word, sermons, or other avenues.  She confessed that she was becoming confused because God has never been silent in this manner for such a length of time.  My response was that I would pray and think about her and her family member’s need and that I would get back to her.

Well, while I am writing in such a way to protect this believer’s anonymity, I believe that her experience is a  universal one to believers across time and culture.  That is why I have decided to try to give counsel via this blog so that others may also be encouraged by this family’s circumstance.   Without relying upon trite Christian sayings about persevering and patience and God’s timing, I want to use a Biblical example to point readers to some comfort during times when (from our perspective) God is silent.  In order to accomplish this, I would like for us to review some material from the book of Job. 

For starters, many Bible scholars agree that while Job may not have been written down prior to the first five books of Moses (Genesis thru Deuteronomy), it definitely represents the oldest self-contained narrative that we have in scripture.  Many believe that the tale is even pre-flood.  So, the themes represented in Job are as ancient as mankind itself.   What are these themes?  Suffering, Satan’s attacks, God’s goodness, man’s pride, trusting God when He is silent – which in turn relates to the patience.  Job trusted and feared God; he respected the Creator of all things.  Yet, we find that through no fault of His own, God allows Satan to inflict suffering on Job.  Notice that God does not cause the suffering, but rather, allows the enemy Satan to inflict suffering on Job.  Why would God allow his servant (as a believer — His child) to go through so many horrible things that affect our lives on this earth?  I believe that it was so that Job would come to know his GOD better,  in a more real way,  not superstitiously but through encounter.  Listen to the words of Job at the end of the recorded encounter…

1Then Job replied to the LORD:

 2 “I know that you can do all things;
   no plan of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’
   Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
   things too wonderful for me to know.

 4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
   I will question you,
   and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
   but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
   and repent in dust and ashes.”

It is telling that prior to Job’s struggles and his encounter with the almighty that  his “ears had heard of God [you, sic.].”  But afterward, Job says “but now my eyes have seen you.”  Whenever, we experience times of suffering or God’s silence, the first question that we often ask is “why?”  Why?  Why?  Why?   Why did he die?  Why did I lose my job?  Why am I being hastled for doing the right thing?  Why does this individual live like the devil with no regard for God or righteousness and get rewarded with material wealth and advancement?  The prophet Jeremiah asks the question outright, “Righteous are You, O LORD, when I plead with You;Yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously?”  And King David, whom Jesus said was a man after God’s own heart said, “How long, LORD?Will You hide Yourself forever?”  It is apparent in even a casual scan of scripture that God’s people sooner or later encounter a time when God is silent toward them and when if they are not careful, the “WHY” questions will overwhelm their faith and cause confusion.

I believe that this is because the “WHY” question is the absolutely wrong question for the believer to ask during these times.  I am becoming ever more increasingly convinced that the right question to ask is “WHAT.”  What do I need to learn from this Lord?  What is it I need to do Lord?  Or… perhaps “HOW.”  Or perhaps ” WHEN.”  These questions imply getting to KNOW the Lord better than you have before.  The question WHY is intrinsically a self-centered question that places one’s focus on themself and their circumstance.  Thus, WHY creates a tunnel vision that can be hard indeed for any person to come out of or to see beyond.  WHY leads to depression, disillusionment, etc.  Whereas, WHAT or HOW  broadens the circumstance out beyond our own ego-centrism.  To put it plainly and simply, WHAT and HOW place the eyes of our heart back on God Himself –  on Christ where, in contrast, WHY presumes that God owes you or I an answer and places the attention of our hearts back on ourselves.

The praise song Open The Eyes Of My Heart, Lord proclaims our desire to have our spiritual eyes placed upon the Lord and not ourselves, for example.

SO, what does all this have to do with encouragement for the family member of the believer first mentioned above?  What does this have to do with the silence that believer is having from God?  What kind of encouragement is all this theological wrangling for these two faith pilgrims?  Simply this,  there may never be an explanation for God’s silence that is acceptable on a fleshly human level.  But, that does not mean that God is not present or in control.  Just like Job in the midst of his questions and turmoil over what God was allowing to happen in his life, the believer must determine down deep in his or her soul that, “25For I know that my Redeemer lives,
   and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”  (Job 19:25, ESV) 

You see, even when you or I do not get a direct word of direction or explanation from the LORD GOD, we must determine to go on in faith, trusting God’s promises to us that He has revealed.  Even for those who are weak in their faith and struggling with their relationship to God, the only solace we have is in what God has clearly stated in His Word.  So, when HE is silent, what can encourage us?  How about the following statements that He has made and made clearly:

35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written,

    “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
   we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  [Romans 8:35-39]

Or how about….

29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”  [Galatians 3:29]

Or…

20I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness ere through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”  [Galatians 2:20-21, ESV]

Or still…

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  [James 1:2-4, ESV]

These are just many of such verses in the Word of God.  So, here is my answer to the query of the believer who is not hearing from God who is concerned about her close family member.  Keep listening, even if you aren’t hearing anything directly.  It is in the act of listening that we open our hearts up to a God who delights in those who pursue Him and the Knowing of Him.  It is exactly in this time of silence that you are growing in your faith, IF you do not let your emotions, fears, and anxieties overwhelm you.  Remember that NOTHING can separate you from the love of God that has been demonstrated in Christ Jesus — not even the silence.  Remember that when it is all said and done, God’s plan for you is for your betterment.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,”   [Jeremiah 29:11-14, ESV]

More Quotes to Ponder from Another Great 20 Century Mind!

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
— G.K. Chesterton

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
— G.K. Chesterton

“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”
— G.K. Chesterton

“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”
— G.K. Chesterton

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”
— G.K. Chesterton

“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”
— G.K. Chesterton

“It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.”
— G.K. Chesterton

“There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.”
— G.K. Chesterton

“Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”
— G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy)

Quotes to Ponder from My Favorite — the Greatest FORMER Athiest-Agnostic of the 20th Century!

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
— C.S. Lewis

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
— C.S. Lewis (The Four Loves)

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
— C.S. Lewis

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”
— C.S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain)

“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning…”
— C.S. Lewis

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
— C.S. Lewis

AND HIS GREATEST QUOTE OF ALL …

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
— C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)

Finally…. Another Quick Word!

Sorry for the absence…… I want to encourage you to go to Truth for Life at truthforlife.org and listen to the sermon entitled “About Times and Dates.” I think you will find it most interesting!

Doulos?

What does it mean to know Jesus the Christ or to be a “follower” of Christ?  In this day and age, one gets an abundance of answers to this question, yet, not many of these seem to truly satisfy the soul.  When we look at scripture (the word of God, the Bible), we get a very clear picture of what it means to be a Christ follower.  In order to get a quick answer to this question, I want to look at how the disciples who were later designated Apostles viewed themselves before Christ as is witnessed in the New Testament scriptures.

In Romans 1:1, Paul refers to himself as “Paulos, doulos Christo Iasous” (transliterated Koini Greek).  Most of our “versions” have this passage translated as “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.”  However, in the New Testament Greek language, there are at least eight words that mean “servant:”  diakonos, leitourgos, paidiske, pais, huperetes, therapon, nianiskos, and oikiakos.  All of these Koini Greek words refer to a type of servant or attendant, be it by gender or age, etc.   Consequently, they appear only sporadically in the New Testament  and usually only in reference to individuals or specific incidences.   What is striking to note is that the word Paul uses of himself in Romans 1:1 is not in the aforementioned list.  Paul calls himself “doulos” or “slave.”   In fact, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude all refer to themelves as “doulos Christo Iasous.”  The word doulos occurs 124 times in the original language of the New Testament (Koini Greek). 

Here are just a few examples: 

Romans 1:1  –  described above;  Ephesians 6:5  –  slaves (douloi) obey your earthly masters;  Philippians 1:1  –  Paul and Timothy slaves (douloi) of Christ Jesus;  Titus 1:1  –  Paul a servant (“slave”)(doulos) of God;  James 1:1  –  James a servant (“slave”)(doulos) of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ;  2 Peter 1:1  –  Simon Peter, a servant (“slave”)(doulos) and apostle of Jesus Christ;  Jude 1:1  –  Jude, a servant (“slave”)(doulos) of Jesus Christ.

BUT, what does all this have to do with what it means to be a Christian?   It all makes sense when we begin to look at what “doulos” means.   The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament defines doulos in the following manner:

                      “…the meaning is so unequivocal and self-contained that it is superfluous to give examples of the individual terms or to trace the history of the group…[The] emphasis here is always on “serving as a slave.”     Hence we have a a service which is not a matter of choice for the one who renders it, which he has to perform whether he likes it or not, because he is subject as a slave to an alien will, to the will of his owner.  [The term stresses] the slaves dependence on his lord.”  (as quoted in “Slave,” by John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson, 2010)

Thus, the true Christian is not his own.   He or she has been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20).  The very act of receiving Christ, if it is true and sufficient, is the act of denying one’s own will and submitting one’s will to that of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-36, Luke 9:23-25) .  Being “saved” is far more than just verbally inviting Christ to save you and forgive you and then making a public profession.  No, true salvation only occurs when the person bends the knee of their heart (their mind, their will, their emotions) and says, here I am Jesus, take me, I give “me” to “you.”  You purchased me (Rev. 5:9) and saved me; take control of my life.  When that man or woman gets off the throne of their life and gives Lordship to God Almighty – the Lord Jesus, the Christ; then salvation occurs.  Thus, this new believer — who has truly become a new creation has but one true opinion of themselves… one who has been purchased by Jesus’ blood and who consequently belongs to the Christ.  This then is the person who desires to follow the Lord in obedience; to rearrange priorities around their Master’s will, and show the world Him to whom it is that they belong. 

So, in the year 2011, what does it mean to “know” Jesus Christ, or to be a follower of Jesus Christ?  It means no more or no less than it has ever meant or that it meant to the first followers of Christ.  God does not change (Heb. 13:8).  God’s word (His Truth) does not change, Jesus said that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father except by (or through) Him (Jesus).  To truly live the Christian life today is to truly submit your will (your wants, desires, plans, etc.) to Jesus the Christ.  In doing so, you WILL become a doulos  –  a slave of Jesus Christ. 

As I finish these thoughts for this entry, I am burdened with a question that I must ask of the Christian brothers and sisters around me and in my sphere of influence:  “If you and I are “slaves” of the Master, subject to His will, then why do we busy ourselves with everything else and let the things of Christ take last place in our lives?  I mean, I am a sports fan, and I love my wife and children, but, why do so many put football, baseball, cruises, softball, and just about everything else  higher on our life priority list of values than we do  our God and King Jesus Christ?  If we are truly “in Christ,”  why do we give Him our leftovers?  I would like to leave the following two passages of scripture for us all to look at and see if the “still small voice” of the Lord isn’t speaking to us about our everyday life and priorities.  

“3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.”  (2 Timothy 2:3-4)

1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.”  (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

The plea of my heart is that we who claim Christ will live daily as doulos – those who belong to Christ; and that our lives and our daily priorities and choices will show the world to whom we belong.