How are we supposed to reconcile God’s silence as children of a living God? Children, after all, have the instinct to cry when they need help. When no one takes notice, they often get louder. And when no one responds time and again, eventually children learn to be silent too.
Perhaps this has been you at some point. It certainly has been me. I couldn’t hear God, so I screamed and yelled and shook my fists. When that didn’t work, I sat in my own silence, alone and hurt and afraid.
But in the end, even when His silence was too loud to bear, Jesus taught me that He never left my side.
How God’s Silence Feels
When I experienced God’s silence, it shook my very foundational understanding of who and what God is.
My infant daughter lay in a hospital bed on life support for months. We were waiting for a heart transplant after her open-heart surgery went poorly and her native heart began to fail. I was in constant prayer, relentlessly bringing my weariness and burden before the Lord. Yet there she lay–sick, in pain, and suffering. The very God who created my daughter was quietly letting her die. I couldn’t hear Him. I couldn’t see Him. I couldn’t feel Him.
God’s silence can feel like abandonment.
While in the hospital, I had a front-row seat to the answered prayers of so many others. Each time I saw another child released from the ICU to the general care floor, I wondered what it was that family did differently than me in their conversations with God. Why was He listening to them and not me? Were there only so many times God was going to say “yes”? What did I have to do to get mine?
God’s silence can feel like a competition.
In time, not only did I begin to feel as if other families must have a different relationship with God than I did; I began to feel as if they had a better one. Parents are biologically and spiritually designed to protect their children. If we fail to do so, guilt is the immediate consequence.
As my daughter’s health declined before my very eyes, it wasn’t hard to blame myself. I’m pretty sure I took the time to ruminate over every sin I had ever committed from poking my sister in her car seat as a toddler to falling into the temptations of gossip as an adult. God’s silence didn’t match up with His almightiness in my head, but it was easy to match up His silence with my sinfulness. The obvious conclusion was He must not be speaking because He must not be listening, and He must not be listening because of something I did wrong.
God’s silence can feel like a punishment.
Silence in the Hands of Satan
Perhaps the most fertile ground for the Enemy to work is in the field of our human feelings.
When we allow our feelings to get in the way of our faith, he is there in wait, ready to reap a harvest. Those seeds of abandonment, competition, and punishment can easily be cultivated into far more dangerous ideas.
It has been said parents are more worried when their kids are quiet than when they are loud. When getting louder doesn’t work, Satan will often tempt us into repaying God’s silence with our own. It is such a simple cause-and-effect temptation. If God isn’t answering, why would I keep calling?
What begins as a seemingly simple solution can and will be twisted by the Enemy into a much more complex problem. Our lack of communication with God is not as simple as no longer asking Him to intercede; it will quickly become an opportunity to become self-reliant. If God won’t solve my problems, I will.
Cutting communication with a quiet God also feels like self-preservation, a natural defense mechanism. After all, not hearing from God is painful. Why continue to hand God your hurting heart when His fist appears clenched? Satan loves our attempts at self-reliance and self-preservation because of how easy it is for him to turn them into self-destruction.
Unfortunately, we live in a Christian culture that often reinforces the lies of the Enemy. The trite “just trust” mentality often fortifies the worst fears of those going through a season of silence. If God isn’t answering, it must be because I am not trusting enough. So we attempt to “trust harder” (another example of self-reliance) in hopes we will hear Him again. When we don’t, we spiral further into Satan’s favorite lie: you are not worthy of God’s goodness. We have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ to fill them with the truth when God is quiet.
Silence in Scripture
So what is the truth? God’s silence can be extremely lonely. We can easily personalize it and feel as if we are the only ones to experience such tension in our relationship with Him, but that is far from the truth. When we feel alone in this way, Scripture is there to comfort and connect us to so many who have sat in the quiet of the Almighty.
Jesus Himself was met with God the Father’s silence. With the literal entire weight of the world on His shoulders, Jesus cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42, NIV). We are told an angel appeared to Him in order to give Him strength, but when His Father did not answer Him directly, “…he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Jesus knew what the silence meant; in order to atone for the sins of the world, there had to be a perfect sacrifice, and that sacrifice absolutely had to be Him. Our human view is so narrow and we are incapable of seeing the entire picture. God always works from an eternal perspective, with the whole Kingdom in mind. Sometimes what we ask of Him does not align with what is best for the Kingdom, and as much as that can hurt, we have the promise that one day God will bring justice to all our pain (Isaiah 30:18).
When God is silent, it could mean there is no other way but through.
What to do when God is Silent
Talking to a silent God can render us exhausted and discouraged, but relationships require communication in order to stay healthy. Our relationship with God is no different. The temptation will always be to stop talking to Him, but we must work hard to resist this. When we feel our own words are ignored, it can be difficult to keep speaking them. Fortunately, there are ways you can stay in communication with Him while taking a break from the vulnerability that is traditional prayer:
Pray the Psalms
The book of Psalms is filled with heartfelt pleas and petitions to God. You will find a psalm to fit every type of feeling and inquiry you could possibly have. Reading them out loud or silently as prayers has always given me a personal connection with God without requiring my own wording. Because it is a part of Scripture, we know God Himself has inspired it, so we have the confidence these prayers are blessed by Him.
One of my favorite Psalms to pray when I am struggling to hear God is found in 22:1-5:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (NIV)
This passage says in succinct, powerful words what my heart struggles to convey when my communication with God is hurting. Jesus Himself quoted the very first line of this Psalm as He hung on the cross. Silence from God can feel very isolating, and there is so much consolation in knowing Jesus has (and will continue to) walk the same road with us.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer
Jesus taught us an actual prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV). “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
This prayer is deceptively simple, saying so much in so few words. Anything you could possibly need to express to God lies within this prayer. After all, who better to teach us how to talk to the Father than His own Son?
Try not to mistake God’s silence for absence.
It has been six years since my daughter took her last breath in my arms, and I am just now beginning to hear God again.
It hasn’t been an easy process, and it is a process far from over. Similar to any relationship, He and I will continue to have good days and bad days. But like the best relationship, I am confident He will be by my side through all of them. I don’t doubt another season of silence waits for me on this side of heaven, but I will carry through it the lessons this one has taught me.
My prayer for you in such a season is that you will lean into what is true about God’s relationship with you: you are His precious child. And He is always right there with you – even when He is quiet.