Category Archives: God’s Silence

Letter 47: To L- What I Cannot Say Sunday

I am writing you now ahead of our meeting because I doubt I will get a chance to say much to you privately, and much of what I want to say will not fit the sort of things I expect will be said at that time.  You will hear much about faith, and God’s promises, and God’s power, and God’s love, but very little of His mystery.

I have no idea what it’s like to have your disease, nor do I know you well enough to guess what you might be thinking.  I do know suffering, however.  I have battled what I now know to be Depression for much of my life.  It can manifest itself as bouts of fear and anxiety, but mostly it is just a slow dripping faucet of inner gloom.  There have been times when the sense of pain has been overwhelming.  I would like to say that I prayed and it ended, but it didn’t.  This appears to be something I am going to have to live with, and some days I do better with it than others.

I believe God can and does heal, but not always.  Too many people I’ve prayed for have not gotten well for me to say otherwise.

When I was a teenager, a girl in your youth group was diagnosed with cancer.  We prayed, hard.  We prayed in tongues as well as in English.  Within the fashions of the time, we did everything we were supposed to do, and yet she died.  That has stayed with me all these years.  Nothing was said about it afterwards.  The church had put in all this effort and energy, and when it did not yield the desired results, we dropped it and walked away as if nothing had happened.

It doesn’t fit with our message.  We want success, and success is healing.  We are told to pray in faith, to pray in tongues, to pray out loud– as an aside, have you ever noticed that most guides to prayer get down to “How to Get What You Want From God”?  Jesus Himself tells us to pray constantly, to batter Heaven with our request.  Yet He also tells us there is no need for endless repetition, and that faith the size of a mustard seed will prevail.  I’m not sure which one applies.

This is not a new problem, of course.  When you get to your required philosophy course in college, and I hope you take one, you will learn that it goes by the name, “The Problem of Evil.”  “If God is all-powerful and all-good, why does evil occur?”  This is one of the central questions of the Job.  If you re-read it, you’ll notice God never answers Job’s question about why all of this happened to him.  Yet Job ends the book satisfied.  He has seen God, and that was enough.

We’re supposed to be cheerful and confident under such trying circumstances, but I want to assure you that it’s okay if you’re not.  I can even understand if you want to tell off God.  I have, on occasion.  He’s big enough to handle it.  It’s interesting that for all his complaints to God, God does not rebuke Job.  God does, however, rebuke Job’s friends for their efforts to defend God.  Take comfort from this in the trying times.

All of this is a very long way of saying that I will be praying for your healing Sunday, as I have been for some time, but I will also be praying that He will strengthen you, and open you up to His mystery.

From your work in television, you know that the characters on screen are to carry on unaware that there is a soundstage enveloping them.  They are in the moment of their story, and the goings on outside of that are hidden from them.  So it is with us.

God means to build saints, and there is a whole story going on to achieve this that lies just outside our vision.  Much of it will make little sense until we reach our journey’s end.  We have Christ as our Guide and token, He who died to rise again and prepare a place for us where there shall be no more tears and no more night.

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Letter 33: Watching and Waiting, an Easter Mediation

Easter is Sunday. In thinking about the Easter story, I was struck by two things. First how unnoticed the first Easter was, and second, how much waiting surrounds Easter. I suppose I should elaborate.

Easter is central to the Christian faith. Without Easter, there is no Christian faith. Given how much notice the seminal events in Jesus life received, Easter is surprisingly low key. Indeed, if one accepts the earliest copies of Mark’s gospel, we have only some frightened women and an empty tomb. Angels will appear, but again, only to some women. The guards are struck as dead men when Jesus rises from the tomb, so they see nothing, and can only report that the tomb is empty.

John reports that the first disciples to inquire again find only an empty tomb. John believes, but Peter has only questions. The risen Christ is finally spotted by the same group of women who have attended Him throughout His ministry, and they at first think He’s the gardener.

At Jewish law, women cannot give testimony, and so God deliberately chooses to reveal himself to people whose testimony cannot count and cannot be trusted. It seems a strange thing to do, as if He is making deliberately difficult to get to the bottom of what He is up to. He confounds the wisdom of the wise, and turns this world upside-down, but we have to work to find it. Why?

Thus the waiting. There is a lot of waiting in the Easter story. Jesus gets shuttled back and forth between the various authorities in Jerusalem waiting for the resolution He knows will come. He is several hours dying on the Cross. Nothing happens quickly. And then comes Holy Saturday, where Christ lies buried deep in the bowels of the earth, unseen. Holy Saturday is the day nothing happens, the day we wait.

There is much to ponder here. Which is why we wait. In the hidden places, God is at work.

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Letter 32: I Am One Acquainted with the Night

Night-Driving-Synchroblog

“I have been one acquainted with the night.”

-Robert Frost (1874-1963)

I am writing this as a part of Addie Zierman’s synchro-blog in support of her new book. I have not read it, but many pieces on her blog have resonated with me, including this challenge: “What have you learned from the dark?

Darkness is familiar to me. Not quite an old friend, perhaps, but certainly an acquaintance of long standing. Many days I wish it weren’t so, but thus far, God has been content to keep us close. I suffer from depression, and probably have for years. I have been on mediation for twenty years, and it did not go well when I tried to not take them.

Like many, I found the religious culture of my youth inadequate to address the darkness. I was told to pray more, to seek deliverance, or claim freedom from the spirit of depression, as if I were demon-possessed. I ended up at a Christian college on a scholarship for Christian leadership, not certain I believed in God.

Here, then, is the first lesson I learned in the dark: God is there, too. Far from a static object of our quest or adoration, or indeed, some great, divine, Sugar Daddy, God is present and at work always, in the dark, as much as in the light. Graham Greene’s semi-autobiographical novel, The End of the Affair, uses its title as a pun. It is about the end of an affair conducted by the narrator, but as the story unfolds, we see the second meaning: the narrator slowly becomes aware that he is being silently, but relentlessly pursued by a Divine Lover, who will not rest until He possesses him, body and soul. That is certainly the God I found, or rather that found me, in the dark.

My act of teenaged rebellion was becoming Presbyterian, for I found myself connecting more with the older liturgies of the church. Light and Dark play an important role, and we are beginning Holy Week, when this is played out in dramatic fashion. During the course of the Tenebrae service on either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, one by one the lights of the church go out until, with the loud cry of “It is finished!” the sanctuary goes completely dark.

The darkness continues until Easter. For three days Christ lay in the darkness of the tomb. Like the Disciples, we wait. The wait can seem long and hard. But even in the darkness, unseen and unfelt, Christ is at work. I am the grass. Let me work.

As the story of Christ “ends” in darkness, so it begins. In Advent, we start in darkness and silence. The minister strikes a match, it hisses and sizzles to life, piercing the darkness, as it moves to a candle, wavers and catches, spreading the light. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” the minister intones, quoting the words of Isaiah 9:2, “they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”

We need darkness to see the light. It is part of the cycle of life. In human terms, we rest when it’s dark. And perhaps in our darkness, God is calling us to rest, too. We find it so hard. We cannot see, and any action is as likely to end in a collision or a stumbling. We can only trust the God who hides in light as well as dark. We are at an end of ourselves, and it is terrifying.

Yet we are not alone. The other lesson I have learned is that there are others in the darkness. Some have passed before, others are with us now, and we need them. God connects us in the darkness in ways that He cannot in the light. We wrestle with God, and like Jacob, we bear the marks, and we can spot a fellow survivor. Those who have accompanied us into the darkness will stick with us in the light.

Our days consist of darkness and light. Any practice of faith that will only recognize one is incomplete at best, and false at worst. And there was evening, and there was morning, and so it goes.

I love old hymns. At their best, they hold a richness of faith and experience. And so, as I close, an evening hymn seems most apt.

All praise to thee, my God, this night, for all the blessings of the light! Keep me, O keep me, King of kings, beneath thine own almighty wings.

Forgive me, Lord, for thy dear Son, the ill that I this day have done, that with the world, myself, and thee, I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.

Teach me to live, that I may dread the grave as little as my bed. Teach me to die, that so I may rise glorious at the judgment day.

O may my soul on thee repose, and with sweet sleep mine eyelids close, sleep that may me more vigorous make to serve my God when I awake.

When in the night I sleepless lie, My soul with heavenly thoughts supply; Let no ill dreams disturb my rest, No powers of darkness me molest.

O when shall I, in endless day, For ever chase dark sleep away, And hymns divine with angels sing, All praise to thee, eternal King?

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; praise him, all creatures here below; praise him above, ye heavenly host; praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

-Thomas Ken (1637-1711)

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Letter 16 Epiphany

This past Tuesday was the Feast of the Epiphany, Three Kings’ Day, or as Shakespeare termed it, “Twelfth Night.” This marks the end of the Church’s celebration of Christmas, and plunges us into a murky time in between as we await Ash Wednesday.

This matches the chronology of Jesus’ life, as we know it in the Gospels. We see him at eight days having his bris at the Temple, where the family meets Anna and Simeon. He reappears two years later, still living in Bethlehem when the magi arrive. The family then departs for Egypt to escape King Herod’s clutches where they stay for six years. From Egypt they move to Nazareth, in case Herod’s son decides to finish his father’s work. Six years later, we meet Jesus again, now recently bar mitzvah’ed, as He celebrates Passover at the Temple for the first time as an “adult.” He remains behind when his parents depart for home, astonishing the priests and the teachers of the Law with his knowledge and questions. “ Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52). And there Jesus once again disappears, not be heard from again for eighteen years.

All too often, we forget these strange silences. God has dramatically inserted Himself into the human story in a new way, and this after four hundred years of comparative silence. Angels sing, shepherds marvel, wise men come, and then God goes quiet. Why? He pops again, briefly, twelve years later, clearly attracting some attention, and then disappears again. Does anyone follow up on Him? With so many people looking for a Messiah, I would have thought someone would locate him. I sometimes wonder whether God intentionally does this, both to throw us off, but also to test our intentions.

We love to speak about God in terms of relationship, that He is a friend who is always there, who loves to communicate with us, and if some people in my church are to be believed, God has an awful lot to say to us. These silences do not fit this image. We don’t want to admit that at times, God chooses to say nothing to us. In our chatter filled world, I’m not sure we know how to handle the silence. How dare God not Instagram us throughout the day?

We have tried to fill the silence with all sorts of speculations. Some believe that during this time, he travelled around the Roman world with Joseph or Arimathea, his uncle, journeying so far as to set foot in Britain. The notion that God was content to live a quiet and thoroughly unremarkable life in Galilee seems so unlike the dynamic person we wish to present. A God who goes silent is hard to follow.

So I am left to wonder, as I seem prone to do. God delights in confounding us, reminding us time and again of His divinity; that He stands outside of nature while we remain very much within it.

Aquinas, of all people, seized on this mystery at the heart of God. The apostle of reason and faith took up this theme for a communion hymn which seems a good way to close this letter.

Godhead here in hiding, whom I adore,

masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,

see, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart

lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;

how says trusty hearing? That shall be believed;

what God’s Son hath told me, take for truth I do;

truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy Godhead made no sign to men;

here thy very manhood steals from human ken;

both are my confession, both are my belief;

and I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,

but can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;

this faith each day deeper be my holding of,

daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,

living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,

lend this life to me then; feed and feast my mind,

there be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,

I beseech thee send me what I long for so,

some day to gaze on thee face to face in light

and be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight.

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