Silence from God

By Brian Congdon

How do you handle total silence from God? You’ve experienced it before: you pray, petition, negotiate, vent, and even beg, but there is no response from God. You quickly begin to wonder, “is He even listening?” Or… “does He care?” When the answers don’t come, a sense of desperation sets in. You think to yourself, “I appear to be doing everything by the book, even though it’s not about being perfect, why do I keep getting zero results?” Zero feedback. Zero can feel like a punch to the gut when you’re in desperate need.

I know personally about this experience of total silence; one time it persisted for over a year. 15 to 16 months of eerie silence. Before the doldrums, I had kept a vibrant listening prayer journal. Back then God was very “chatty” with me. Every day, every experience would yield some new insight or nugget of wisdom to be unpacked. I would rush to the Scriptures and find more details for further exploring. Life was fun. All was joyful and well when God was speaking. Then slowly but very steadily the lines of communication were cut off. I continued reaching out and praying daily as I always do, but the more I did so the more I heard nothing in return.

Eventually, after a few months, I gave up. Asking God questions was bearing absolutely no fruit. So I stopped asking. At first, I’ll admit I was highly frustrated. But with time, I became resigned. I don’t remember how many months of silence into the journey of dryness before I began to stop caring. My mind would signal that God was not speaking then repeat the line “oh, right, that’s old news” followed by a shift of thoughts. I wasn’t callous about it nor did I feel “mad” at God, just indifferent after a year of the same. I’d explain to friends at the time that “God appears to be weaning me off of a dependency on His voice.” Whatever it was, it was pretty uncomfortable initially, but eventually became more bearable.

Now, I am in the midst of far greater trial. A trial which absolutely no one seems to understand or have groundbreaking insight from a 60,000 foot vantage point. I have received very helpful encouragement from some wonderful intercessors, for which I am deeply grateful. Yet recently, in a sterile room surrounded by 10 or more medical professionals…the head doctor announced with a perplexed look on his face: “we have absolutely no idea what your condition is. Do you know?” I am not kidding, the doctor actually said that. “Well that’s extremely strange” I thought, and counterintuitive to the entire concept of hospital admittance and care! You don’t go to the ER to hear that kind of talk.

As a cancer survivor, I could have legitimate reason to worry. Having passed all the tests and emerged squeaky clean from chemo followed by a stem cell transplant in 2013, I’ve been “out of the woods” as they say for several years. (Words can’t do justice to the harshness and intensity these treatments bring upon a frail body. But if they are the cost of enjoying complete cancer-freedom, so be it.) Now, something is again wrong, manifesting itself physically, but it feels wholly distinct from cancer. Reassuringly, my oncologist said he sees no evidence for a relapse. Still, all things considered, mysterious and painful silence from God is… well, painful.

Why does God not speak or answer when we need to hear from Him the most? Why are prayers ignored? Mentally it’s easy to dispel such thoughts with quick retorts: “Of course God does not ignore our prayers! He simply answers on His own terms and timing!” While that is definitely true, it does absolutely nothing to quell the enormous discomfort of waiting for long months without answers. Every single lab test has come back negative, a good thing, but simultaneously unsettling. On more than one occasion the vials of blood drawn reached a count of 18. You face questions which shake you to the core, like “Am I dying????” Perhaps that question is a moot point as well given the past track of zero answers. It becomes a discipline to prevent your mind from wandering off into unknown rabbit holes, and a necessary one.

“How much longer, God?”
“Will you heal me?”
“Why does no one have answers?”

Every single question met by pin-drop silence. Literally, no one knows!

God knows. He simply has chosen not to reveal His higher thoughts on the matter. It perturbs me greatly that He will not share those thoughts with me or especially with the doctors, but what negotiating power do I possess? In the meantime I continue to endure a level of physical discomfort I didn’t know was possible. There is no way to sugarcoat how this mystery condition feels on a daily basis. But if God is a good God, which by faith I believe He is, then there has to be a purpose for a desert with no oasis in sight. The time is now to trust when everything subjectively and physically is screaming out to do the opposite. The alternatives are frightening; there is no way to “go it” alone.

Jesus is Lord, Lord over all things, and this has to include our worst trials. Everyday is a good day to acknowledge His lordship, that all things are subject to Him. I choose to believe He is, despite the feelings to the contrary, incredibly close to me during this time of silence and trial. I know full well this is not just about me. Some day, when the time is right, the wisdom will be available for examining and the revelation will come forth.

For now, although I can barely rest physically, I at least “rest” in the knowledge that surely I am walking through fires of transformation by God’s design. I know from previous experience that God’s designs are unspeakably good and redemptive in the big picture. There is an “other side”, a threshold we cross. The blueprints of the Master Architect point to a beauty beyond our comprehension. He is at work. The evidence of that fire-walking is in my pronounced daily struggles complemented by zero answers. Even small amounts of walking followed by being completely out of breath, has become a formidable challenge.

If God is keeping the wraps on what He is doing behind the scenes, it must be very important, and it would be wise to wait patiently for the big reveal. The posture of my heart and assigned homework are to expect good things to come rather than dwell on the current moment of apparent incapacitation. Can we have joy when we are the dry bones in the valley? It is 100% possible. Much of that is an attitude choice we make, but not all. We learn again we are nothing without Him.

I have been fortunate to experience God as Father deeply including the whole fathering “package” of love, compassion, discipline, and severity. I have seen Him up close and can attest to His goodness, but also His fiery, ultra-intensity. Now, I trust this Father deeply because I know how much He cares and thinks about redemption. He’s a master at parenting us, the perfect Father we always wanted. But I also know this Father, when He lays His hand to our brokenness, causes us to face pain.

Everyone has to choose how they will handle pain in life. It’s inevitable. Either run from it or face it. The Healer knows that most times “it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” Only a knowing Father asks us to, in experiential order, endure suffering before we access abundant life and mountaintops. I am not saying categorically that one is necessarily a prerequisite for the other. He clearly did this with His Son, requesting He endure the Cross. What kind of parent asks their son to go die on a cross? One with a plan we do not see or comprehend. And God’s love never ran out for His Son. It will not run out for us, even in His silence.

Philippians 2:5-18 (emphases mine):

…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Prayer:

Lord, I surrender to You. I confess I don’t have the answers for as much as I don’t want to lose all sense of control. I choose to trust that You are fully in control and You know my pain, my trial, my every struggle. You know because You know me, even better than I know myself. Not only did this not take You by surprise, but I will trust You have a master plan, though I do not see it nor understand it. When everything fails me, Your love will never fail. Help me to remain focused on what matters and through Christ I lay claim to the hope that You embody in fullness. Take my burdens, clarify and take over my thinking. Remind me again what it means to be Your child and grant me rest. To You I commit my spirit and I will wait for the answers if that’s what You require. Amen.