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Deafening Silence

I crave silence. I really do. My normal workday is non-stop talking and listening to people on the phone to assist them with their damaged house or car or boat, and sometimes listening to them scream and curse for various reasons. I talk with about 10,000 customers a year, so multiply that by almost 8 years…you can do the math. So, when I get the chance, a place of total quiet is fabulous for me to enjoy.

Microsoft has developed a silent room, called an “anechoic” chamber, which is as close to total quiet that science can produce. When I first heard about that, I thought “I want one!” But their observations reveal an interesting result. When a person goes inside, the designer says, “Most people find the absence of sound deafening….there are several folks who can stay inside for 30 minutes or so. But others have asked to go out within the first few seconds.” I think I’d still like to try it!

One place I don’t want to experience silence is when the Lord doesn’t seem to hear me or answer me when I bring my petitions to Him. I don’t expect Him to break the quiet in a few seconds or 30 minutes, but when weeks or months or years or decades pass without any apparent answer, His silence is deafening to me.

The opening lyrics from the song “Praise You in This Storm” expresses it well:

I was sure by now, God, you would have reached down
And wiped our tears away, 
Stepped in and saved the day.
But once again, I say "Amen," and it's still raining.

I’m sure you can relate. And I’m not talking about a trivial issue (like the often used, “Give me a parking place close to the door”), but big stuff. Salvation for a family member or a friend, relationships and marriages that are ripped to shreds, wandering kids or parents making horrid decisions, serious health issues; you know the kind. Prayers for those things often seem to be met with utter disinterest from heaven; nothing is seen nor heard from the Lord. We scream and/or weep with pain, “Lord, how long?” I have done that very thing on a forest trail, on the edge of a river and lake and sea, and in the car. I don’t like the Lord’s silent treatment and I have expressed that to Him more than once.

If you have been there, or are there now, know that you join the chorus of believers for thousands of years in the past. You are not alone.

Look at the Psalmist’s words from Psalm 13:1-2:

1How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
2How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

After a long list of grievances, Psalm 44:23-26 repeats the refrain:

23 Arouse Yourself, why do You sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not reject us forever.
24 Why do You hide Your face
And forget our affliction and our oppression?
25 For our soul has sunk down into the dust;
Our body cleaves to the earth.
26 Rise up, be our help,
And redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.

I find it interesting that earlier in this Psalm, the writer “reminds” God that they are striving to honor Him and serve Him. These are not pleas from pagans but from believers. They recount His provision in the past, at least what they heard about, but is not being experienced by them now.

1 O God, we have heard with our ears,
Our fathers have told us
The work that You did in their days,
In the days of old.
17 All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You,
And we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant.
18 Our heart has not turned back,
And our steps have not deviated from Your way

To quote the song again, remembering God’s past reply but not now:

I remember when I stumbled in the wind.
You heard my cry to you and raised me up again.
But my strength is almost gone;
How can I carry on if I can't find you?

But the most startling account of the apparent inaction and seeming deafening silent indifference of God comes from a scene in heaven, with the opening of one of the seals which John witnessed, told to us in Revelation 6:9-11.

9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

They are in heaven and still they cry out! Let that soak in a minute. No longer in the sin-stained world, but ushered into God’s very presence, and they still are expressing their anguish. They ask God how long He will wait until He executes justice on those who have murdered them for their faith. This was no casual question to get a simple answer about a timeline so they could put it on their calendar. The words are strong: “cried out with a loud voice.” Not just “cried out” but doing so with a “loud voice.”

This is a passionate plea, directly to God Himself, to break the deafening silence of inaction. And I confess I don’t like the answer given to them. I know it is good because it is God’s answer and plan, but I still find it unsettling.

Two things cause me to pause and be stunned a bit. First, He says to just wait and rest a little while longer. They have been waiting a long time, and He says to wait some more. Yes, a white robe is given to them (likely a reminder of their status as redeemed people), but does that not sound familiar to the answer to our prayers? Just wait. And wait some more. Even though they have already been waiting. Oh, did you notice they are told to rest. Rest??? In the midst of a crisis, in the midst of unspeakable grief? Rest? What and how is that possible?

The reason for waiting and resting is even more disturbing. Second, He says the slaughter will continue and it must continue. More murders? More martyrs are required, more of their “fellow servants and brethren” to be killed to join the list of those believers dying for their faith. I won’t attempt to figure that out. I’m not sure there is any satisfying answer for our understanding. But, obviously, by God’s explicit statement, it is required.

There’s the issue. Pretty plain, and one of which we undoubtedly are very familiar. So what is the answer? How do we “find rest for our souls” when surrounded by deafening silence? How do we respond? The Psalms we’ve referenced, as well as other passages, give us direction.

In a culture of drive-thru windows and instantaneous Google answers to nearly any question, we are not very good at waiting. But we are taught repeatedly in Scripture to “wait upon the Lord.” Wait for His action, wait for His answer in His perfect timing, not our imperfect schedules. And that, my fellow pilgrim, engenders faith and trust.

Psalm 121 again asks the question and then answers it immediately with the only one possible.

1I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

There is no other source. As followers of Christ, we know that in our heads, but our hearts lag behind in the acceptance of that truth. We cry aloud with the plea of the father who came to Jesus on behalf of his son, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

The Psalmists who were challenging God in His care for them and not answering their pleas also knew the answer already. At the same time they were complaining, they state what they knew to be true:

5 But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalm 13:5-6)
6 For I will not trust in my bow,
Nor will my sword save me.
7 But You have saved us from our adversaries,
And You have put to shame those who hate us.
8 In God we have boasted all day long,
And we will give thanks to Your name forever. Selah.
(Psalm 44:6-8)

The songwriter wrestles with it and states it succinctly:

As the thunder rolls,
I barely hear you whisper through the rain,
"I'm with you."
And as your mercy falls,
I raise my hands and praise the God
who gives and takes away

Again we turn to Psalm 42:

1As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?

I have to ask myself if my pleas for help were immediately answered and the issues resolved, would I still be running to the Lord? Would I not become complacent? Is it not the struggles and pain which keep me rushing back to Him? I am acutely familiar with deep pain and grief. The waters have sometimes been deep and nearly overwhelming. But I am also acutely aware that those things keep me going back time and again to the only source of help. I am, in my times of deepest need, truly crowded to Christ and clinging to the cross. And I have found Him to be faithful to meet me in my time of need and experience a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7); a peace that makes no sense on the outside, but is there by His gift.

I have learned that His timing is perfect. He knows the end from the beginning and He truly has our best in mind. He told the martyred saints to wait, to rest, there was more that had to happen before the end could be known and experienced. I have seen that in my life. There are some things which He has given me an answer months later, years later, sometimes decades later, along with at least some understanding of the “why.” But still, my cries for help will not stop. I will continue to run to Him.

Knowing all that to be true doesn’t make the silence any less deafening in this life as we experience it. Rather, it makes me long even more for the day when there is no more death, no more tears, no more sin, no more waiting and the voice of the Lord is loud and clear. An eternity filled with joy and praise which is nearly deafening in its volume and exuberance instead of in its silence.

But until that day, the song reminds me to respond in faith and trust:

And every tear I've cried
You hold in your hand;
You never left my side.
And though my heart is torn,
I will praise you in this storm

(Featured Image: Anechoic Chamber. Photo Credit: Consumer Reports / CC BY-SA)