Tuesday, July 14, 2015

“The Absence or Silence of God” (part 2)

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, "In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay." And, "But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back." But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.  Hebrews 10:36-39 NIV
As we read the Book of Job we realize that Job did not have a single page of Scripture…and throughout his suffering he struggled with God’s apparent absence.  Like Job, we feel forsaken at times; we wonder if God is indifferent to our pain.  The kind of God Job wanted was absent, one who fit his notion of fairness; who would give him whatever he asked.  Job poses questions that God doesn’t answer.  Job was trying to figure out why bad things happen.  We know why Job was tested, but at least in the pages of his book, he never learns the reason.  God instead challenges Job to try and run the world better.
So what do we do when life hurts? In both the Old and New Testaments, a phrase is repeated: “The just shall live by faith.”  While we’re plodding through life, we trust.  And we discover that God does for us what we can’t do for ourselves; He enables us to persevere.  He does so according to His schedule.  Faith means trusting God, even when His timing disagrees with ours” (Reeve).  Faith also means striking out, with no clear end in sight, even with no clear view of our next step. “Tempting God” has been defined as “trying to get more assurance than God has given (Newbigin).
In the Psalms, the writers prayed with gutsy honesty, complaining when God appeared distant: “Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble? How long will You hide Your face from me? (Psalms 10:1, 13:1). The absence of God was a common experience over the years of Bible history. These may seem like shockingly angry prayers, yet God can handle our anger. It’s better to complain to God than to ignore or delete Him from our lives.
CS Lewis writes that, in spite of God’s silences, we have a marked advantage over non-believers by knowing that we live in a fallen world.  Many things fit into place when we understand how Paradise became polluted.  This world isn’t as God originally made it.  The world has been corrupted by sin and death.  God is not hidden; people have simply forgotten and forsaken Him.
The ancient Greek philosophers viewed God as impersonal, remote and indifferent. The Bible paints a different picture, revealing God as intimately involved…yet at times He is distinctly silent and seemingly absent.  Pope Benedict writes that “God’s silence is part of His revelation.”  When we are leaning on God’s promises we can bear His silences.  God has not abandoned us. Even though we don’t understand His ways, we trust Him regardless.
It’s been said that “the direct presence of God would overwhelm our freedom, with sight replacing faith” (Yancy).  God wants us to find Him with the eye of faith.  The irony is that God is everywhere. To search for Him is like hunting for our eyeglasses while wearing them.  The Psalms also affirm God’s presence. In Psalm 139 David writes, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast” (verses 7-10). 
Oswald Chambers writes: “Has God trusted you with His silence, a silence that has great meaning? God’s silences are actually His answers.  His silence is the sign that He is bringing you into an even more wonderful understanding of Himself."  God is never really silent--we just are deaf to what He has to say to us.  Like Job, we sometimes judge God before the final sentence is completed.
On a wall in a cellar in Köln, Germany, where Jews had hidden from the Nazis, an inscription was written by an anonymous author: "I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when not feeling it. I believe in God even when he is silent."
People of faith observe a world in which every trace of God seems to have vanished; we ask why we’ve been forsaken, yet we still obey.  We find ourselves climbing mountain slopes of increasing difficulty.  We prepare ourselves for times when God seems absent.  Eugene Peterson writes, “The story in which God does His saving work arises among a people whose primary experience of God is His absence.”
People think of Hell as fire and brimstone. Hell is the complete, total absence of God. This is what Jesus suffered upon the Cross. He cried out in spiritual agony, “My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He endured separation from the Father so that we might not.
Scripture to Claim:

Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. For evildoers will be cut off, But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there. But the humble will inherit the land And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.  Psalms 37:7-11 NASB

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