What do we do when God is silent? When we’re praying for answers and there’s no response from the heavens?
Experiencing God’s silence is not uncommon. The Bible characters experienced it (eg.Psalm 22:2) and it’s still one of the most common questions I hear in my ministry. Why isn’t God speaking to me? Why isn’t he giving me answers I need?
Of course every situation is different so it’s impossible to provide one answer that fits all. But here are three possibilities to consider as to why you’re experiencing God’s silence and what to do about them:
1. God has already spoken, but you haven’t recognised it.
The first reason why God is silent is that he may have already spoken, but we didn’t recognise it. We need to remember that by nature God is a talker (Psalm 115:4-5,7), that he’s promised to speak to us (John 14:26, 16:13-14) and that he gave us his Spirit for that very purpose (Acts 2:16,17). Therefore our default position should not be to question God’s ability to speak, but rather our ability to listen. The problem may not be that God isn’t speaking – it’s that we haven’t recognised it.
It seems this scenario was also common in the ancient world: In one of the oldest books of the Bible, we read; “Why do you complain to him that he responds to no one’s words? For God does speak—now one way, now another—though no one perceives it” (Job 33:13-14). God was trying to get his message through “now one way, now another” but people weren’t noticing.
A first century rabbi once said; “A dream uninterpreted is a letter unopened.” Imagine if the Creator God had sent you a letter – a message that answered your question, gave you vision for the future or provided some insight into your current situation. But it’s sitting there in the letterbox, unopened and unread, while you’re still praying in frustration, wondering why God hasn’t spoken…
It seems this is not a new scenario. The ancients, found themselves with the same problem: Why do you complain that God doesn’t speak? the writer of Job asks; He does speak, now one way, now another. He speaks in a dream or a vision of the night… but you don’t notice it (from Job 33:13-15).
Oh the irony! God may have spoken, but we haven’t noticed it. We’re sitting here disappointed and ignorant, when God has already sent his answer.
So why wouldn’t we notice it?
Part of the reason is that our Western culture has deceived us into thinking that God doesn’t speak in dreams today. It may well have been his most popular mode of communication in the past, but we’ve been taught it’s no longer valid. (Read: ISIS Fighter Meets Jesus in the Dream, But Why the Skepticism?, or listen to (011) Acts 2:17. Did We Get This Scripture Wrong?),
“So God told you to leave your husband?” “Yes” she answered, “He said I was released from my marriage.”
These are the kind of scenarios that cause pastors to wish they’d never taught their church members that God speaks. But this woman wasn’t using God as an excuse to get out of her marriage. She wasn’t looking for an escape hatch to find a younger model. This woman was a victim of domestic abuse. A marriage of ten years to a controlling and aggressive husband had left her fragile and broken. Her life was falling apart.
Was it God speaking to her? When she told her pastor what she’d heard, he answered her with quotes from the Bible; “God hates divorce… What God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Domestic abuse has been the forefront of the Australian news of late. Stories have emerged of pastors counselling victims to stay with their husbands in spite of abuse, a high view of the sanctity of marriage informing their counsel. So was it God speaking to this lady, and if it was, how could it be if it contradicted the Scriptures?
What the pastor quoted was true. God does hate divorce (Malachi 2:16). His plan for marriage is for two people to join together in a lifelong relationship such that nothing separates them (Matthew 19:6). For better or worse, the marriage vows say. The ideal is for both parties to stay faithful to the covenant relationship; caring, loving and providing for each other. But tragically not every covenant is honoured. In such cases we’re told divorce may be necessary because of humanity’s hardness of heart (Matthew 19:8). The Scriptures cite instances of adultery and desertion, but not abuse. What do we do when faced with a situation the Bible doesn’t specifically address?
When I was in high school, I was nominated the person most likely to be married first by my friends. My dream was to be a wife and mother and nothing more. I still remember my cousin suggesting that perhaps I should consider a career in medicine and thinking she was an alien from another planet. Why would I have a career when I would get married? I had planned my wedding dress, the style of my house, the number of children I would have and yes, even the babies’ names.
Then I went through my 20s – I had a few prospects – but it didn’t happen. Then came my 30s – with a few more – but still it didn’t happen. Now into my 40s and Mr Right is nowhere to be found. Life didn’t turn out quite the way I expected.
When I was first asked to speak on singleness at a friend’s church, I baulked. Are you kidding me? Who wants to be the poster girl for singleness? Are you sure you don’t want another message on how to hear God’s voice?
Then I realised there weren’t many people talking about it. Over 50% of us are single in countries like Australia, the US and the UK1, but we’re under-represented in church life.2 Single pastors and leaders in church are rare.3 And even when they’re there, no-one wants to talk about it.
I was 21 years old, had been in church all my life and read the Bible from cover to cover, but had never heard God speak. I knew a lot about God – the things that my parents and pastor had taught me – but I knew him in the same way you’d know the Queen of England through the pages of a magazine. I didn’t know him for myself.
Then at university I met a friend. Jill talked about God like he was her next-door neighbour. “God said this,” “God said that.” At first I was intrigued. Then I got annoyed. Why was Jill always hearing from God and I wasn’t? And more than that, why did people like Abraham, Isaiah, Paul and Phillip and all the others in the Bible hear God’s voice while I couldn’t?
I longed to know what it would be like to have a personal conversation with the Creator of the Universe. If God could speak to me, what would he say? What would the one who knew all my past and all the possibilities of my future speak to me about?
Then again, if God did speak, what if he called me to the wilds of the outback, or worse still, ask me to marry someone ugly? And what if I got it wrong?