Muted Presence

Silence accuses. When we can’t hear God, or feel His presence, a nagging inner voice suggests that we have done something wrong, we are incapable of hearing, or He is at fault. Only the first is a possibility, and God is always willing to convict and correct the humble. We need to get comfortable with silence. Jesus was.

As Jesus stood by Lazarus’ tomb outside Bethany there is no mention of the Father speaking or giving any indication of His presence or working. Yet Jesus said:

Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me. (John 11:41-42 NIV)

For years I felt unheard whenever there were periods of silence or an absence of signs. My pleasure in the spiritual life was proportional to how much I sensed God answering me or saw Him at work around me. Without a communication or manifestation from God I could never have spoken as Jesus did by that tomb. Yet God wants us to function like Jesus, even when He is silent or seems inactive during periods of waiting and preparation. How did it work for Jesus?

Jesus’ statement at Bethany is exceptional. Only once—on the cross—did He seem to suggest that He felt forsaken. Otherwise Jesus communicated constantly with His Father and always knew what He was doing. We don’t know what went on between Father and Son on Jesus’ journey out of the Jordan valley to Bethany. Perhaps the Father was speaking and working; perhaps He was “silent” and “inactive”. If so, it didn’t shake Jesus’ faith. So, are silence and inactivity the real issue?

I suggest that Jesus was at least aware of God’s muted and passive Presence. God is always present. Sometimes His presence manifests in action, sometimes communication; but sometimes He is just simply present. For Jesus, that was enough. He knew He was heard even though no voice or sign reassured Him. Jesus, as always, displayed a joyous, confident trust. Perhaps, as we mature, we grow to love that simple Presence and become less dependent on His active or communicative presence.

But voice recognition and sharing in His works are things we should expect to develop too. Could it be that learning to trust God through silent interludes will spare us from the nagging accusations, sensitize us to His still small voice, and help us perceive what He does around us?

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