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Lombard CRC

How Come God is so Silent?

Last week we began our summer series

on the obstacles to faith:

those things that make it hard to believe.

We noted that these obstacles

don’t just keep unbelievers from faith,

but can tear away at your faith and mine, too.

 

We began last week with the problem of evil

and said this is the biggest obstacle to faith.

Everyone, believer and nonbeliever,

struggles with this at one time or another.

We said last time that

the way to address this problem

is in relationship: together and with God.

Because we won’t find

satisfactory answers in our logic

or rational abilities, but in hope.

Here is where our witness should focus:

always be prepared to give a reason

for the hope you have, counsels Peter.

Work on your confidence

in the power of the cross and empty tomb

to face this obstacle,

we said together last week.

 

This week’s obstacle is not as easy

for Christians to understand.

The objection is called: the silence of God.

The argument goes something like this,

(and as you listen to it,

pay attention also to the places

where this objection doesn’t sound right to you)

in his book Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason,

JL Schellenberg says that

the weakness of evidence for God

is evidence itself against there really being a God.

He says look around and you can see

that reasonable nonbelief occurs.

In other words,

there is plenty of nonbelief in the world

that is not the fault of nonbelievers:

they never heard the gospel,

they don’t find the evidence they need,

there are good people who don’t believe in God . . .

If a perfectly loving God exists,

who desires all to be saved,

this God would make himself known

so that such reasonable non-belief would not occur.

Given that such inculpable, non-resistant,

not-my-fault, nonbelief occurs,

then there can’t be such a God.

Richard Carrier: if the Christian God existed,

we would all hear from God himself

the same message of salvation,

and we would all hear, straight from God,

all the same answers to all the same questions.

The Chinese would have heard it.

The Native Americans would have heard it.

Everyone today, everywhere on Earth,

would be hearing it . . .

Sure, maybe some of us

would still balk or reject that message.

But we would still have the information.

Because the only way

to make an informed choice

is to have the required information.

The fact that God hasn't spoken to us directly,

and hasn't given us all

the same, clear message,

and the same, clear answers,

is enough to prove Christianity false.

 

Now as you hear that I’m sure

you could argue back:

Many of us here would say

but God has given us

all the information we need.

God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.

The Lord said in Christ Alone

my hope and salvation are found.

That there is but one way to God

and that is by confessing our sins

for the complete forgiveness

that God alone gives by the cross of Christ.

We would point out that there are today

Chinese believers in Christ,

and native American Christians,

and believers in Jesus all over the world.

And we would say that

other religions and nonbelief

show that in sin

many do reject the gospel of God.

There is no such thing as no-fault unbelief.

 

In Michael D O’Brien’s novel

‘Father Elijah: An Apocalypse –

A Christian debates with an atheist

and the atheist says

this is why he won’t believe:

The problem is this:

why, when man crushes his victim,

is there only silence from heaven?

“Heaven is not silent,” says the Christian.

“I will never accept that,” says the atheist.

“Where were you when

pulpits proclaimed the truth and grace of God?

Did you heed the passages of Scripture

that speak of our times?”

“Few listened, why didn’t God speak louder?”

“What could be louder than

the fact that his own Son

died in agony beneath a silent sky?”

“That was a long time ago.”

 

To the Christian God is not silent at all.

To say the Lord is says more about

human sin and inability to respond to God.

Scripture, pulpits, evidence in creation,

the cross of Jesus, all speak the word of God.

So how do we take this objection seriously

so we can witness to this?

 

Well, many of us have experienced

what we would call the absence of God,

or the silence of God,

or even a feeling of forsakenness by God.

Is God really listening to my prayers,

then how come I don’t see any results?

Why doesn’t God do something

in my present situation

to deliver or rescue me or the one I care for?

Why won’t God tell me what to do?

Maybe you are anxious this morning

because this describes your understanding of faith:

while others talk about experiencing God,

or say things like,

I know this was a God-thing in my life,

or I was convinced by God to do this,

you don’t feel that way.

You worship,

you pray,

you trust and obey,

but if you were asked you would say otherwise

God has been pretty silent in my life,

you sometimes wonder whether the Lord is there.

 

Our first answer to this is that

just as Jesus fully identifies with us

in our experiences of God’s silence

and forsakenness as he suffers on the cross,

so the Holy Spirit gives us times

when we also experience

God’s silence or absence

in order to be a witness

to those battling this obstacle to faith.

 

So the way we address

the silence of God in our own lives

gives us the witness we need

for those who find this an obstacle to belief.

But again,

the answer is not going to be found

in some greater philosophical or intellectual argument.

Not because the Christian faith

is against reason or rational thought,

but because reason and rational thought are limited,

especially when considering the holy God.

 

Our best answers to this struggle and objection

will be found in our own stories

like that described in Psalm 22.

Remember, this psalm is a song

that believers would have sung in worship.

These are people who profess faith in God,

yet the psalm starts out:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

To be forsaken is to be abandoned or deserted,

to be all alone.

This is not a cry to have more,

to be healed,

to give me what I want,

this is a cry about God’s very ‘there-ness’

a God-are–you-up-there kind of plea -

BY those who have given

their hearts and put their faith in God,

who promised to be with them always.

 

So even God’s people have experiences

of the silence or hiddenness of God.

 

It is a gracious comfort that God

suffers this same forsakenness on our behalf.

As Jesus fights for breath

and fights for you on the cross,

he cries out the words of this psalm:

God the Son cries to a silent Father in heaven,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The gospel writers observe

that throughout the passion of Christ

he took on himself the depths of this silence

and abandonment by the Father,

vss. 7,8, and 18 show up in the gospels

as Jesus dies on the cross for your sin and mine:

vs 7 - All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

vs 8 - "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him."

vs 18 - They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.

 

This means God has provided

an answer to this obstacle in Jesus.

That’s another answer to this argument.

So that’s how we have to answer this objection,

and how we have to respond

when we find ourselves

in the desert and feeling far from God.

Jesus bore for us on the cross the silence of God,

the separation from God that is the result of sin,

but Jesus now bridges that gap.

We are never forsaken again.

But it is Jesus alone who bridges that gap,

not ourselves,

our techniques,

our circumstances,

our wants:

the answer to this obstacle is found in him.

 

But even then there are

experiences of silence,

the winter of our souls,

desert experiences.

 

So how do we respond?

Psalm 22 calls us

to continue to pray and cry for help,

to trust,

and to do what we can do to grow our faith:

 

Ps 22 is a prayer for help.

Praying for help is another answer

to the silence of God.

Belgic Confession Article 1 teaches that God is:

eternal,
incomprehensible,
invisible,
unchangeable,
infinite,
almighty . . .
Sometimes the silence of God reminds us

of God’s utter transcendence.

We can’t control or manage God,

but we can pray to him because

God is also completely wise,
just, and good,

and the overflowing source of all good.

 

God is not a genie in a bottle,

he is not customer service

he is eternal, incomprehensible, infinite,

but he is completely wise,

just and good

and the overflowing source of all good too.

One ignored tradition of Christian faith is called

the apophatic tradition:

it understands that God is beyond us:

beyond our knowing, and imagination

and feeling and experience:

Finding ourselves before God

incomprehensible, invisible and infinite

is a step toward being fully known by God

as creature before Creator,

as sinner before the holy one,

as mortal craving immortality.

So continue to pray thru the silence and absence

sometimes we can only get to the promised land

by trekking thru the desert first.

 

Also, exercise your trust in God alone:

Ps22:4  - In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them . . . in you they trusted and were not disappointed. 9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast.

We were made to trust.

 

Jesus singing this psalm from the cross

shows his complete identification

with broken limited human beings

like you and me.

Hebrews 5:7 - 7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

He was heard . . . to say,

you are heard by him

at the throne of God,

even if it doesn’t feel like it,

even if there is still

the full burden of the cross to endure,

 

Psalm 22 says for us that

What is being experienced

is God’s absence and all kinds of trouble,

what is being trusted is God with us

even in the silence

because of who God is

and what he has done:

vs 24 -  he has not hidden his face from him

but has listened to his cry for help.

 

One theme running throughout the Bible

is that many times and in most situations,

God’s people act in faith,

and not because they heard directly from God.

In the book of Esther, for instance,

God is not even mentioned,

but Esther and Mordecai act out of faith,

remembering what God has promised

and what the Lord has commanded.

To them, God is not silent,

even tho they don’t hear from the Lord

in their present circumstances

and even tho life is troubling.

It’s the same in the story of

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego

before the fiery furnace.

In the NT Peter encourages those

who do not have an experience of God

speaking directly to them

to live by the scriptures

and by the reality of what Jesus has done:

1 Peter 1:8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls . . . 13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;

 

So in the times when God seems hidden or silent or far away –

act out of your faith:

‘My God . . .’ is how the psalm starts:

this is faith, and this tells us

if we are to understand both

the words of God and the silence of God

it will happen only in faith.

In responding in some way

to what God has done in creation and redemption,

in taking him at his word,

and in submitting to his will.

Prof Arie Leder:

faith focuses not

on what God might do in the believer’s present,

but on what God has done for his people in the past,

according to scripture.

So the Bible encourages followers of Jesus

to survive by the exercise of godly wisdom:

not merely to confess God’s providence and presence,

but to decide what, how and when to do and say

to counter folly and sin

with wisdom and holiness,

for God is present

as the scriptures have said.

 

We saw belief in action the Blackhawks win in game 1 tho they were down 1-0 right away:

Patrick Sharp said, "It doesn't matter

how the game is going,

doesn't matter what the score is.

I think there's a belief in our room

that things are going to happen

when we stick to the game plan

and trust the process."

If hockey players can believe something,

God’s followers can believe in God

no matter what.

 

Doing these things,

we may find the comfort and strength

to respond when others share

that it’s hard for them

to believe in God

because God seems silent:

One thing to ask,

depending on how well

you know the person

who raises this objection is:

Would you agree that

people may have very good reasons

in their minds and hearts

for not wanting to believe?

That is, people are not that innocent

when it comes to responding

to God’s revelation.

C Stephen Evans observes:

The story of Jesus

and his dying on the cross

for the sin of the world

tells us that sinful human beings

have ample reasons to reject God’s word,

reasons that have nothing to do

with the evidence or lack of it.

It is painful for people

who are sinful

to recognize their own sinfulness

and confess it without excuse.

And the gospel is offensive 

to people who wish to be their own lords

and do what they want

rather than yielding their wills to the Lord God.

How would you respond to that?

 

You can refer to these scripture texts:

Romans 1: 20 says, For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

John 14 adds Jesus testifying – If you have seen me you have seen the Father . . .

Revelation is given,

evidence is there

but limited human beings as we are,

we are tempted in the words of Dan Fogelberg that

‘all that you ever looked for was what was within your sights to see’

– Dan Fogelberg ‘These Days’

 

David Kinnaman observes that:

“Surprisingly, the Christian faith today is perceived as disconnected from the supernatural world – a dimension that the vast majority of outsiders believe can be accessed and influenced.”

― David Kinnaman, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity...and Why It Matters

 

So help them know

there are supernatural experiences happening,

and available,

in an exercise of faith.

So one more thing to ask:

have you read one of the gospels?

If you think God is silent or hidden,

will you listen to his word that you might

see Christ Jesus in and through it?

Then ask:

what does it say about Jesus?

what have you understood about

who Jesus is by your reading?

 

We can summarize our answer to this objection

and our own struggles with

BC 2 - Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God

We know God by two means:

First, by the creation, preservation, and government

of the universe,

since that universe is before our eyes

like a beautiful book

in which all creatures,

great and small,

are as letters

to make us ponder

the invisible things of God:

God’s eternal power and divinity,

as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.

All these things are enough to convict humans

and to leave them without excuse.

Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly

by his holy and divine Word,

as much as we need in this life,

for God’s glory

and for our salvation.

 

These two means we turn to

in order to deal with this obstacle

and in God’s mercy find relief.

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