Friday, January 08, 2010

When God is Silent

Before I get into the title, a few observations. One, I am using this blog as a kind of memoir as well as a traditional blog; that's why I get off the original topics of communication theory at time (although this post is a theological look at communication). Two, it was 15 degrees this morning in Ringgold and a wane sun is shining through my windows and I don't see how I can leave the house but would really like to get some exercise. Three, Alabama won! but it was rather sad about Texas' qb. However, that's football--any given Sunday, anybody can get injured at any time, all that stuff. It could have been Mark Ingram and then Alabama would have lost. Four, I would like for my son to go back to school, as much as I love him. Three weeks at home is too long. Five, I've been reading Calvin and it's amazing how deep and specific and analytic he is. Six, I am fasting from Facebook for a while. Seven, someone wrote a comment on my blog a while back that was just nasty. Oh, well.

My response to the title is that it is an impossibility. I don't believe God is silent, ever. My reasons:
1. He spoke creation into existence, He spoke through creation (Rom 1), and Creation still exists. Conclusion: He is speaking.
2. He speaks through the Scriptures, and the Scriptures still exist. Conclusion, He is speaking.
3. Just because someone is speaking doesn't mean He is being heard. So whose fault is that? The listener (the non-listener) or the speaker? Now, there's a good question here. As a rhetorician, I would say that part of the responsibility does lie with the rhetor, but in a free society, the audience can still choose not to listen to the rhetor, no matter how skillful he/she is. And listening doesn't just mean exposure, but reception. I have to conclude that if 1 and 2 are true, that the problem is not the lack of God speaking, but the lack of our listening, which again is exposure and reception. We are exposed to a lot of God's speaking, but we aren't receiving.

Of course, God speaking is not just the words on the page but the Spirit speaking through them. We need all three (but not in equal measure, of course) for reception of revelation: the Word, the Spirit, and ourselves: our openness, our effort, our understanding (that's why Christians need to be taught how to study the Bible, I firmly believe that). So, the argument could be turned around by a skillful debater to say, "Unless the Holy Spirit does the work, can we truly say God is speaking?" But of course that assumes He is not, and it seems that it's pretty hard to make blanket statements about whether almighty God is doing His job or not.

4. Personally, I don't understand the issue of "when God is silent." I think when people say it they mean two things.
a. That God is not answering their prayers. And some of Scripture does seem to imply that God is obligated to answer our prayers, but as the cliche goes, No is an answer just as Yes is. So failure to get what one wants seems like a low-level criteria for deciding that God is mute.
b. That the person accusing God of silence is not "feeling God's presence." First, I don't know why we should place so much importance on feeling God's presence, as if our feelings were a basis for accusing God of silence and thus of apathy toward us. Second, an overconcern for one's need to feel God's presence at all times may tempt more than teach.

Many Christians get bored with their spiritual lives and are seeking for something "deeper" and "more meaningful" and "closer in its intimacy with God." And that boredom may lead them to look in other directions. I have had friends who became charismatics because they were looking for something more meaningful and intimate, and others who have gone in the direction of beautiful, liturgical, high-church worship--Episcopalianism, Orthodoxy, or Roman Catholicism. I don't deny them their choices to do so, but I often wonder how they could overlook the problems associated with those avenues. And I do read Catholic and Anglican writers to get their viewpoints, and often they write elegantly of the Christian experience--at least those who convert to those groups, not necessarily those raised in them. And of course, there are those who move, unfortunately, toward New Ageism. What's worse, they look at those of us who remain in nonliturgical worship, or non-charismatic worship, as if we are stuck, unenlightened and untaught, in our old low-church, sola scripura ways.

I say all this because I am reading a study on prayer for women and some of it is very concerned with our experience, our feelings, and our fear of silence. Maybe it's my temperament, but if we get away from remembering that prayer is as much intercession (for others) as it is about feelings (for myself), I tend to think we are in trouble. How much am I praying about myself and how much about others? What should the ratio be? (is there such a thing as a ratio in prayer?) And in the same vein, am I looking for new ways to feel closer to God--a new book, a new conference, a new guru--or am I looking for ways to have beautiful feet to bring good news to others. One thing that can't be denied from reading the gospels is that those who follow Christ are to be actively searching to meet the needs of others versus looking inwardly. We are not Buddhists, and Buddhism has nothing to offer the Christian.

By the way, speaking of Buddhism v. Christianity, good for Brit Hume. It's great to see God working in someone's life and giving them the courage to speak truth to power.

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