Frantic, you yell into the phone. “Hello?” “Hellllllooo?” “Are you there?” you cry, when it’s obvious that they’re not. Perhaps you even shake the phone, as if agitating a digital chip will cause it to function more efficiently.
Finally, you resign yourself to reality. The call has dropped, and you’re left with nothing but the ominous sound of silence.
After 40 years of being a follower of Jesus, I’ve heard countless claims that God has spoken to people. And I’m not denying that he does. On a number of occasions, he has spoken to me, with life-altering results. The Bible is filled with episodes 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.
When God is painted as someone who is endlessly conversational, faith can be trivialised. If the king of the universe can tell me where to find a parking space, could he not also whisper a cure for cancer, a plan to tackle global warming that everyone (regardless of hairstyles) will sign up to, or a way to deal with those black-flag waving militants from ISIS? 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 little bit more weighty.
Those who don’t seem to have a super-fast broadband connection to heaven can feel guilty about their lack of hearing – what is wrong with them? 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 madness is frequently justified by tossing down the ace card in the believer’s 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?
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. And I’m heartened by the late, great Oswald Chambers’ encouragement that sometimes God trusts us with silence.
But this admission should never block our ears. While we are not unnerved by the silence, still we posture ourselves for the possibility of his voice. It was young Samuel who prayed, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). While frequent silence no longer causes me anxiety, when he wants to break it, I want to be all ears.
Jeff Lucas is teaching pastor at Timberline Church, Colorado. He is an international speaker, author and broadcaster Follow Jeff @jeffreylucas