I read a quote earlier this week, The only thing we deserve from God is His silence.
And it struck me wrong.
I deserve nothing but His silence?
I know of silence – lived as a girl with silence when I didn’t do right, when someone in authority wasn’t pleased. I suppose at times I deserved to be ignored.
And there’ve been times when I was silent. If you can’t say sumthin’ nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all, Thumper repeated.
So I’ve kept my mouth shut and walked away from conflict. To keep all those nasty words from spilling out – a volcano erupting and lava flowing – to avoid burning or destroying a loved one.
But do I deserve God’s silence? Bear with me as I think this through…
A few synonyms can be used in the place of this word deserve. If the above statement is accurate, I’ve earned/gained/won God’s silence by my behavior. I merit or justify His silence, or I’m entitled to nothing but His silence, because of my sin.
These statements aren’t wrong in the technical or grammatical sense. And they aren’t inaccurate in a judicial sense. Crime merits punishment, and punishment often brings banishment, incarceration, isolation and a rift in our societal standing and relationships.
However, regarding those 400 years of silence between the testaments…
Had God removed Himself because He was angry at some huge transgression committed by the Jews?
From notes in the MacArthur Study Bible: Over 400 years separated the final events and prophecy recorded in the Old Testament from the beginning actions narrated in the New Testament. Because there was no prophetic word from God during this time, this period is sometimes referred to as the silent years. However, the history of these years followed the pattern predicted in the book of Daniel with exact precision. Though the voice of God was silent, the hand of God was actively directing the course of events during these centuries.
Yes. God was silent. But God was not removed. His presence was real and His hands were at work. There was a purpose in the centuries-long stretch of quiet. (Just as He was also behind the scenes between events at the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus.)
We read in the book of Esther of divinely orchestrated events as men and women moved from day to day, both believers and non-believers. When the 10 chapters are closed and the record complete, we see God’s fingerprints evident and His purposes revealed. Without a word from His lips.
In contrast to my self-serving motives, God’s silence isn’t always a sign of anger. His lack of words could be pragmatic. Why talk when there’s no need for talking? Why speak when a simple nudge will accomplish just as much?
Yet, maybe it’s because I’ve only known God’s love that I struggle to see His silence as something deserved. When He isn’t speaking, I see Him beckoning and feel His wooing. He is everywhere present and at all times engaged with His Creation.
He spoke in the beginning. Genesis 1. He spoke when walking in the garden looking for where Adam and Eve had slipped off to (not because He didn’t know, but to draw them out). He spoke to Noah, and when the ark was ready, He closed the door. The time for speaking was done. And He spoke at Babel. On the mount. At the Incarnation. Jesus’ baptism. And beyond.
Yes, heaven was silent when Job lost everything. In studying the book of Job, I admit it seems a little harsh not to have provided warning or the slightest hint of a clue as to what was about to take place.
And why. How the enemy of our souls challenged Job’s faith and his motives for serving God. And God took up the gauntlet. Because He knew something of Job’s heart. And He wanted the accuser to observe true worship grounded in love for a God who is only and always good. Even in the ashes… even in the silence…
But I can’t believe God’s silence was meted as punishment, as something deserved. Job was righteous, blameless – by God’s own words.
Last I checked, which of us live in a world where we get what we deserve? God sends the rain on those who do good and those who don’t. He answered every prayer and met every selfish desire of Samson. And He blessed Jonah’s reluctant, whining efforts when an entire city turned from its wickedness to God.
Joseph was sold as a slave and thrown in prison for doing right. And Jeremiah and Daniel both landed in a pit when they refused to do wrong.
So, maybe you can understand my difficulty with this word deserve.
I have to believe silence comes for another reason.
And really, would we want Him talking all the time? Does anyone want me talking all the time? Do we want anyone talking all the time?
The heavens declare the glory of God…
Think of body language. We humans are very much aware of our ablility to communicate without saying a word.
In Psalm 19 we see how the universe uses body language to reveal its Creator. In Psalms By the Day by Alec Motyer, the Hebrew translates like this:
The heavens recount the glory of God. And the expanse of the sky declares the work of His hands. Day after day pours out speech, and night after night reports knowledge. There is no speech, and there are no words: their voice is not heard. In all the earth their line (of possession) has gone out, and to the end of the peopled-world their utterances.
I most likely do deserve God’s silence, given my sinfulness… but Oh, how I praise Him! He didn’t keep silent, didn’t keep His distance. God came down and He is here.
God with us.
Even in His silence, God speaks. And those who have a desire to hear will recognize His voice.
Not because we deserve it. But because He loves.
Even in the silence.