The Silence of the Lamb
Updated: Nov 3
What do you do when God feels absent? When the silence is so loud it drowns out the voice in your head that is telling you to hold on to hope.
C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures…but shouts in our pain.” But as someone in deep pain recently told me, “If God is shouting, I must be deaf.” What do you do when you feel like the shouts are not coming, and the silence is all there is. I found myself in this silence recently, agonizing over a very painful situation in my life. Someone I loved dearly was hurting immensely, and there was nothing I could do about it. Loneliness settled like a damp fog. I wept. I prayed, wondering where God was.
It is a common theme in the Christian life. A simple google on God’s silence will yield a plethora of results. It is the feeling expressed by the unknown author of “Footprints in the Sand,” who wrote, “I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me." Sinclair Ferguson has written a whole book on the matter, “Deserted by God?” Perhaps, the most stark expressions of the seeming abandonment and silence of God come from the Psalms themselves.
David’s honesty tears at the soul as he pleads, “How long, Oh Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Ps. 13:1)
I know what some are thinking. I know where some people land: “God is not there. He never was.” But silence is not absence. It is sometimes comforting companionship for one whose hurt is too deep for words. Silence can speak volumes in a place where words may hurt, and we appreciate those dear friends who understand this and enter our sorrow with us, silently comforting us. But we do not appreciate this from God. It seems like an abandonment. So how should we interpret those times when it seems that God has abandoned us in our pain?
One slow winter day I was doing a puzzle with my mom and my oldest daughter, Ariel. Ariel’s three month old baby girl, Marilyn, was napping in the bedroom next to us. When I checked on her, she was lying awake, perfectly quiet, looking around expectantly. We continued our puzzle, Marilyn now nestled soundly in her mother’s arms. After a while, my mom spoke in her quiet, wizened way: “I was just thinking about little Marilyn, lying awake in that room all alone and how she may have thought she was forgotten and abandoned. But what she didn’t know was all the while her mother had an ear tuned to her. If she should make the slightest sound, her mom would be there in a moment.” She was looking down at the puzzle, considering where to fit in the next piece, and I was glued to her every word, for then she started relating it all to God, the God she has been walking with since she was a young girl. With over 80 years of experience, it occurred to her, as she considered Marilyn, that this is how we are with God.
So often we think we are alone and God has abandoned us, but all the while, He is close by, His ear tuned to our every cry.
I have often thought of that conversation. I am thinking of it now, as I feel I am alone, looking wide-eyed at the turbulent mess around me. And yet, somehow, I know I am not alone. I know the silence is only my perception of the matter. When our daughter died, my husband and I went through grief differently, and we perceived God differently. I felt God’s presence tangibly and knew his comfort in words whispered to my soul on the darkest of nights. My husband, on the other hand, felt as if God was far away and silent to his pain. It was heartbreaking to see him struggle, knowing he felt this way, knowing I could not fix it. Randy Alcorn has said, “There’s a sense in which God is never silent. He has already spoken in his word and by becoming man and dying for us on the cross, purchasing our eternal salvation. This is speech, and speech is not silence! What we call God’s silence may actually be our inability, or in some cases (certainly not all) our unwillingness, to hear him.” In reality, God’s word speaks always, in permanent ink, testifying to the soul’s deepest pain, the heart’s loudest cry.
But when you are in it, feeling that you have sunk beneath the surface of the water, where neither voice nor the loud raging of the storm you’re in can be heard and the silence of those depths fills every crevice and you feel it in every crevice, it is hard to remember that God is speaking, that the silence is not absence.
In those times, the Psalms become my sanctuary. I look through them, finding places where the author finds himself in silence, and then, because God’s word is living and active, I find something else. Though so many of the Psalms speak of the silence, they also speak of a Presence. In Hebrew it is called “hesed.” It is sometimes translated as “lovingkindness,” sometimes “mercy,” sometimes “steadfast love.” Dane Ortlund, in his devotions on the Psalms, describes “hesed” as, “God’s covenant loyalty, his refusal to give up on those whom he has taken to himself.” Has the unchanging God shown his love for you in sending his Son to die on your behalf? Then he loves you still, even if you do not hear the whisper of his love in your deep sorrow. He is asking you to trust Him, for He is trustworthy. He is asking you to cast yourself and your sorrow upon Him, for He is able to bear it. He has said that He will never leave us or forsake us. (Deut. 31:6). In the silence that surrounds our pain, do we believe His promises to be true? “Jesus Christ was steadfast love embodied not merely in an event but in a person” (Ortlund).
The gospel is that ever-present proof of His love for you. It is the tangible evidence of His presence with you. And the word of God is preaching that gospel to you, shouting it into your pain.
The same friend who said, “If God is shouting, I must be deaf,” came to me the next day, expounding on the great comfort they had found in God’s word that morning. Lamentations came to mind as I rejoiced with them. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23). There that word is again, “hesed,” God’s steadfastness towards His own. In His covenant love, He is there whether we know it or not, whether we deserve it or not, whether we feel it or not. We are but infants who do not yet understand the steadfast, covenant love of our God. Psalms 13 began with David’s honest question, “Will you forget me forever?” But it ends with these words: “But I have trusted in your steadfast love (hesed)…he has dealt bountifully with me” (vs. 5-6).
So in the silence, I take up once again the Book and open it. And the silence is broken, for God shouts.