When God is Silent

by susan on October 12, 2015

Job 23:1-9, 13-17
Sunday, October 12
Rev. Susan Rogers

Then Job answered: 2“Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. 3Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! 4I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. 5I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. 6Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. 7There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

8“If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; 9on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.

13But he stands alone and who can dissuade him? What he desires, that he does. 14For he will complete what he appoints for me; and many such things are in his mind. 15Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. 16God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; 17If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!

On October 1st at 10:30 in the morning, a gunman walked into a writing class on a community college campus in Oregon, and he began shooting.

Nine people were fatally shot and nine others were injured. The gunman took his own life. It is a story we are tired of hearing and one we believe is preventable.

Within minutes of this tragedy, various media, including social media began sharing the news. While a few posts expressed grief, the dominant response was a frenzy of political, theological and sociological statements that stirred the controversy over guns and gun rights.

On the back of a town’s unspeakable suffering,
we hurried to make our personal opinions,
our political agendas and our theological stances known.

Instead of mourning with those who were mourning, we rushed to make sense of things.

This is so reminiscent of what Job’s friends did in the face of his loss.

Remember Job?  He was the man described in an ancient Old Testament story as the most upright in all the land. Yet, God made a pact with “the adversary” that allowed Job to experience terrible suffering.

He iss stripped of his wealth, his children died, his body became ravaged by disease,
and his well-meaning friends demand he must have done something to deserve it all.
After 7 days & nights of sitting with Job in silence (an honored Jewish tradition), they begin to talk & talk & talk at Job.

They want Job to fess up.
They want him to admit what he did to deserve this punishment.
They want him to return to God.

Job listened and responded to their advice, and by the time we get to our scripture reading for today, he is done.

He knows he did nothing to deserve this punishment.
He can’t reason or reconcile or make any sense of it all.
So, instead of answering his friends any longer,
Job gives God a piece of his mind.

Since his friends are adamant that God is a righteous judge, Job wants his day in court. Job refuses to “make lemonade out of lemons” or to “turn that frown upside down”. He refuses to “see how God might be using this tragedy for good”.

Job is raging mad and he’s not gonna take it anymore:
Alright, friends, if God is a judge like you say, then the very least he can do is give me a fair trial!

Only one problem:
Job can’t find God.

Reversing the confident words of the psalmist, The Message records Job’s lament this way:
“I travel East looking for him—I find no one;
then West, but not a trace;
I go North, but he’s hidden his tracks;
then South, but not even a glimpse.

Do you ever feel that way?
Do you ever experience seasons where you feel like you are
doing everything you can to connect with God,
to rekindle some intimacy or passion,
to make a change or
to move your life in a positive direction and you keep coming up empty?

What used to work isn’t working anymore.
Prayer seems useless.
Church feels like a waste of time.
God seems absent.
You feel alone in the struggle.

C. S. Lewis wrote that during one of the most painful times of his life, he cried out to God and got… “a door slammed in [his] face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.” He confessed that this heavenly silence made him doubt whether there was even a God at all: He wondered …”Why is God so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?” (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)

C.S. Lewis is not alone in this experience:
The psalmist recorded feeling that God had hidden God’s face from him.
King David felt rejected by God.
The prophet Jeremiah felt God had deceived him.
And, Jesus himself cried out from the cross, “my God, my God, WHY have you forsaken me?”

At times, especially in times of suffering, God seems silent.

So, what do we do in these moments? In moments when we are overwhelmed by suffering or exhausted from trying so hard, when we are drowning in cynicism or doubt or depression? In moments when all that used to seem so clear about faith and life now makes no sense at all?

Do we dare, like Job to make some noise? To rant or raise our fists in protest?
Do we get mad at everyone around us, blaming them for the refusal of God to speak?
Do we isolate ourselves, afraid we are the only one who feels the way we do?
Do we turn to the other voices who shout they will fill the void or numb the pain – the alcohol, the extra pill, another facebook fix, another religious expression that claims more certainty (more answers & less grey), another church?

And, what do we do when God seems silent to our friends or neighbors?
Do we utter memorized cliches or well-intentioned advice?
Do we stand at arm’s length handing them practical how-to’s?
Do we secretly wonder what they did wrong, pretending we are immune to that kind of suffering?

God does finally speak, and not to Job’s friends who think they have all the truth there is to know about God.

God answers Job,
the loud-mouthed, blasphemous one,
the one who refused to accept beliefs simply because others say so.
It could be that God would far rather have an annoying and persistent demander than a self-assured, well-spoken-church-member any day.

Job survives his dark night of the soul. The story goes on to tell us he is restored. Perhaps, the One who seemed absent has been there all along.

God is big enough for our doubts.
Be persistent in sharing them – with God and with each other.
Be present companions willing to listen, to walk with one another and to wait until the silence ends.

The silence does end.
I’ve seen it time and time again.
We are given the courage to continue on.
There is renewed energy or enthusiasm.
There is a sudden sense of God’s presence.

Recently, I shared a meal with a friend who has spent the last year searching for God. She has felt doubtful, not sure what she believes, desperately wanting clarity. She’s been reading books, journaling, talking with others … and, still struggling.

During our meal, I was surprised to hear what sounded like the end of seeming silence or at least a pause. She was telling me about a recent opportunity to use a struggle of hers to encourage someone else facing a similar hardship. This experience made her recall a prayer that was prayed over her a few years ago.  The person praying  told my friend that the struggle she was experiencing would serve a purpose and she suddenly remembered that prayer and wondered if maybe, just maybe, God was speaking.

God is not the divine fixer, but God is the constant companion.
The One who suffers with us.
The One who at times sits silent in our suffering.
The One whose light will shine in and around us again.

That is the life that we are invited into – as followers of the Way and as companion travelers.

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