by Jeff Lucas on December 21, 2022
It’s a frustrating moment. You’re having an important conversation with a friend on your cell phone when suddenly the line goes dead, usually at the critical moment when they’re just about to tell you that the baby has been born or the stock market has collapsed. Frantic, you yell into the phone: “Hello? Hellllllooo… Are you there?!” You cry when it’s patently obvious that they’re not. Perhaps you even shake the phone, as if agitating a digital chip will cause it to function more efficiently (it does not). Finally, you resign yourself to reality. The call has dropped, and you’re left with nothing but the ominous sound of silence. Irritating.
After nearly 50 years of following Jesus, I’ve heard countless claims that God has spoken to people. And I’m certainly not denying that He does. He has spoken to me — with life-altering results — on a number of occasions. The Bible lists numerous examples of God speaking to humans. He talks. It’s just that I’m not convinced that He is as talkative as some people make out, and when we suggest otherwise, a number of things happen.
When God is painted as someone who is endlessly conversational, faith can be trivialized. If the King of the universe can tell me where to find a parking space, could He not also whisper a cure for cancer, or a way to deal with monstrous, flag-waving terrorists? Of course, in the face of the world’s problems, any report of God speaking to us first-world folks can seem strange, and if He is truly interested in helping His people park efficiently, then who am I to question — but I often find myself wishing that the content of God’s conversation with Christians would be just a bit more weighty.
Let’s also consider those who don’t seem to have a super-fast broadband connection to an endlessly chatty heaven, feeling guilty about their apparent lack of hearing — what is wrong with them?
Silence can indicate stony silence — an attitude behind or a reason for the silence. We’ve upset the other party, who isn’t talking to us. We’re being ignored, shut out, or so we feel. In times past, I’ve told others that I’ve found God to be quieter than I anticipated, only to be informed, sometimes tersely, that I just don’t listen hard enough. Thanks a lot; I’m glad I shared.
Anyone who has been around Christianity for long knows that foolishness is often justified by tossing down the ace card in the believers pack — the “God told me…” move. When we insist that we are acting in response to a divine command, we quickly shut down the possibility of being told that we’re wrong. God has stamped our plans with His approval, we declare. Who are others to disagree?
Discerning the voice of God or sensing His nudge isn’t always easy. I’m encouraged by that story of young Samuel, who, when woken up by the voice of God, repeatedly woke up Eli. He heard a voice but was confused about the source.
I recently heard a preacher announce that God is always talking to us, 24/7. We need to listen more. But that’s surely a ludicrous statement. What can God possibly want to chatter on about endlessly? Imagine being around any person who never, ever stopped talking. Be honest — they wouldn’t be your friend for long.
Of course, there’s a pendulum-swing reaction to the craziness, and that comes when we are automatically concerned about the mental health of anyone who says “God said…” But these days, I’m becoming more content with the sound of silence. It reminds me that this is not all that there is; that a day is coming when our blurred vision of Jesus, myopic because we see Him by faith, will be corrected: we will see Him as He is, and hear Him clearly, undistracted by the noise of life this side of eternity. The silence draws me back to the strong, secure voice of Scripture. I’m nudged to consider that His voice might be discovered in unexpected places, like that kind email I received this morning or that walk in the country. And I’m heartened by the late, great Oswald Chamber’s encouragement that sometimes God trusts us with silence.
But let’s not allow this admission to block our ears. While we are not unnerved by the silence, still we posture ourselves for the possibility of His voice, sensitive to the hint, the nudge. We remember that it was young Samuel who prayed, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” While frequent silence no longer causes me anxiety, when He wants to break that silence, I want to be all ears.