Are you one of those people who wants to be answered straight away? When you send a message, do you get angry when someone has clearly seen it but doesn’t instantly reply? I have a confession to make. A lot of the time, I don’t answer straight away. In fact, when I am with other people, I try not to ignore messages and I don’t take phone unless it is really important.
Having said that, there’s one call you ALWAYS take, and I mean ALWAYS. You always answer when your wife/girlfriend calls… (Unless you’re with you wife, then you don’t answer if your girlfriend calls). Seriously though, if your partner calls, you answer because if you don’t it will cost you big time.
I remember last time I didn’t answer my wife’s call, it cost me thousands of dollars. I was on the road, on a long trip to visit my sister. I had to take our nice, new car, because our much less reliable 25-year-old Festiva (pictured) would never have survived the trip. Well, my poor wife was left with this bomb of a car and had to drop the kids at school. Low and behold, the Festiva overheated and the car coughed and spluttered into the school car park with steam pouring out from under the hood, and came to a grinding halt in front of all the school moms in their brand new SUVs. My wife called. I did not answer.
Now we have a new car, and our beloved Festiva has gone to a better place. ALWAYS answer when your wife calls. When your wife calls, she wants to talk to you now. Sometimes she wants to tell you how much she loves you. The rest of the time she needs you, NOW.
It’s funny how we often treat God like that. We ask God a question and we want answers now. When we have a personal crisis, we expect God on the line in an instant, and if he’s off… I don’t know… running the universe or something, and doesn’t get back to us straight away, we get mad. If you’re like me, then you do this a lot. I get angry when God doesn’t speak to me. I get frustrated at God’s silence.
A Story Of God’s Silence
If there was ever a part of the Bible that speaks to this issue, it’s the Book of Esther. Esther is a terrific book of the Bible and one that I would encourage you to read — seriously, a great story. But since, it’s 10 chapters long, let me give you a paraphrased version of the story:
Here’s how it goes. At the time of this story, Israel has been ransacked by the Persian Empire and most of the people are taken away and are now living in exile in Persia. During this time, King Xerxes, the King of the Persian Empire throws a banquet for his male associates. At the banquet he gets blind drunk and while he is intoxicated he starts to boast about the beauty of his queen.
Finally, at some point in the bragging he decides he is going to show them how beautiful she is, and so he calls her to come. He summons her and says, “Come, and dress beautifully, I want you to come and exhibit yourself before thousands of drunken men.” And for reasons that are impossible NOT to understand, she doesn’t come. She just doesn’t come. Surprise, surprise!
Feminists rejoice because this woman, in an act of incredible bravery, has stuck it to the man. However, in a male dominated, hierarchical society, for authority to be spurned like that, for her not to come to the king when he called her, would also cost her big time. For someone to defy the king was a cultural crisis. And so, a cabinet meeting was called and they decide the Queen had to be stripped of her crown and banished from the empire.
Now, a new queen had to be found. So commissioners are sent out into every part of the empire to find the most beautiful young women in the whole empire and bring them to the King. Some scholar’s believer over 1000 young women were brought to the King’s Court. Then, every girl who had been brought back (and they didn’t have any choice in the matter by the way), had to spend a year having beauty treatment and etiquette classes… basically for a beauty pageant. This was Persia’s Next Top Model with the King as the sole arbiter and judge to decide who would become the next Queen of Persia.
Well one of the girls that was brought back to the King was an orphaned, Jewish girl named Esther. Esther’s parents were dead and she had been raised by her much older cousin, a guy called Mordecai, who has more or less adopted her. Now Mordecai tells Esther not to mention anything about her Jewish identity or beliefs to maximize her chances of winning the beauty contest, and so she went secretly and kept her Jewishness under wraps. Low and behold, when Esther presented herself to the King, the King favored Esther above all the rest. And so this little orphaned Jewish girl becomes the queen of the greatest empire on the planet at the time.
Now, one of the King’s henchman, a guy called Haman had taken a personal disliking to Esther’s cousin Mordecai. Haman’s hatred was so strong that rather than looking for a way to kill just Mordecai, he decided to try to wipe out the entire Jewish race. Haman convinced the king to pass a law for the extermination of all the Jews in the Kingdom. Sound familiar? The King passes these laws, completely oblivious to the fact that his newly appointed young queen Esther is, in fact, a Jew.
On discovering the plot against her people, Queen Esther suddenly is faced with a terrifying choice. Say nothing and watch her people systematically wiped out? Or risk her own life and approach and confront the king. You see, in those days, you couldn’t just barge in a demand to the see the King… even if you were the king’s wife. You had to be invited. Simply going to see him uninvited could result in a death sentence for Esther. So what is she to do? To speak or not to speak?’
Esther resolves to risk her life to save her people. She interrupts the king at another banquet.
Esther 7:3–4, “Grant me my life, and spare my people. This is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation.”
This beautiful Jewish girl, with great tact, makes the request for the cancellation of the genocide seem so straightforward. The King is moved by her words and relents. He has Haman, the evil mastermind behind the plot put to death instead. Esther saves her people. All’s well that ends well. Isn’t that a great story?
The Missing Character
Now, if you were really paying attention you would have noticed one character is conspicuously absent. Where is God? Esther is only book in the Bible where God is not mentioned — not once. God is on mute while murder is plotted, mass rape is legislated and lives are ruined. God utters not a single word.
In fact, nothing spiritual happens in the entire book of Esther. There is no prophecy, no reading of the scriptures, no visible intervention, no A-grade miracles like a flood, or a lightning strike, plague of frogs or earthquake. None of the good stuff that could have stopped the genocide attempt earlier. God is silent throughout the whole saga. You would never know there was a God if you just read Esther on its own.
A Troubling Question
This brings us to a troubling question — one that many people ask at some point. Why is it that just at the times we need God most, he is often the most silent? I don’t know about you, but this bothers me a lot. Much of my relationship with God seems to be characterized by silence. Atheists will tell us that the reason God seems silent is because he’s absent. “No one’s home at that address. Duh.”
Even C.S. Lewis struggled with this. Listen to what he said:
Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims on you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need it desperately, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. And after that, silence… why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent in our time of trouble?
Did you ever feel this way? Sometimes we have these encounters with God where he seems to break into our lives with power and answers our prayers and wins our trust. And then there are these seasons when chaos careens with apparent carelessness through our lives and the world, leaving us shattered. Or an unrelenting darkness descends. Or an arid wind we don’t even understand blows across our spiritual landscape, leaving the crust of our soul cracked and parched. And we cry to God in our confused anguish and he just seems silent. Surely, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
How God Speaks Silently
Yet, through the story of Esther, where God seems to say nothing, we learn much about what God is like and how God is a God who speaks silently. Writer Jon Bloom says, “God’s silence is how it feels, but it’s not how it is.” And here’s why:
God Speaks in the Ordinary
Firstly, even though God seems silent, He is always speaking through the ordinary events of our lives. Think about this. In the story of Esther, the Jews are in great danger, and yet somehow God manoeuvres situations and circumstances so that the Jews are saved. And God does this without any miracles, any pillars or fire, no parting of oceans, nothing spectacular at all.
There is a whole string of coincidences that happened, and if they hadn’t happened, all of the Jews would have been wiped out. The first thing is the King — if he had not gotten drunk and made that boast. That was crucial to God’s plan. If the king didn’t do that, the old queen, would have stayed queen. But, in order for God’s people to be saved, Esther had to become Queen. What if the old queen hadn’t refused to come the King’s party? What if the old queen had been shown leniency? Now what if Esther hadn’t been so pretty? What if the Commissioners didn’t happen to find Esther when they were searching for beautiful girls? What if she didn’t win the beauty contest? What if she hadn’t even been dragged off the Persian with the rest? What if, what if, what if?
One coincidence after another after another and they are ordinary things… little things. When you look at them you would never think of them as significant ways that God is working. When you see one of the ten plagues you know that’s God! But when King Xerxes gets drunk, and start bragging… you don’t say, “Wow, there’s God at work!”
But the book of Esther is trying to tell you, “Don’t make that mistake.” When God works in extraordinary ways, we know. When God works in ordinary ways, we think he’s not there. But he is. You might think that God is not doing anything, but God is always doing something. God is always at work, always speaking through the ordinary events of our lives.
God Speaks Through People
Secondly, even though God seems silent, He often speaks through the people around us. When Esther is caught in her inner struggle — when she really doesn’t know what to do — her adopted Father Mordecai send her a message: “Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.” It’s just what Esther needs to hear. It gives her the courage she needs to boldly approach the King.
Was it God who was speaking? Well no — not directly. But it was certainly God speaking through Mordecai. Can you think of a time when someone said just the right thing at the right time to you? It might not have even been a Christian, but it smacked you between the eyes and you. Just remember God chooses to use people as his primary vehicle to communicate to the world. Even though God seems silent, He often speaks through the people around us.
God Speaks Through Our Own Longing
Thirdly, even though God seems silent, He often speaks to us through our own longing. Think about this: every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire. If we are hungry, we eat. If we are thirsty, we drink. I would argue that deep down we all have an innate longing to hear his voice — everyone wants to hear it. Who wouldn’t want to hear it? There is a longing inside. Have you ever asked why you have this longing? Why would I long for something unless that something that could satisfy that longing? If God wasn’t there, why would silence bother us? On the contrary, Tim Keller says,
“The silence of God is not absence. A sense of His absence is an evidence that He has touched you.”
Longing makes us ask, emptiness makes us seek, silence makes us knock. Sometimes God takes a few steps back so that we might take a few steps forward that we might lean in to him. Even though God seems silent, He often speaks to us through our own longing.
God Speaks to Us in Our Suffering
Fourthly, even though God seems silent, He often speaks to us through our suffering. Think about poor Esther. She is in exile — which means she is basically a prisoner of war. She is an orphan, which means her parents are dead. Then she is taken against her will and forced to marry a man who is probably at least twice her age. Esther knew suffering. Esther might have been tempted to ask, “Where God is in all this?” And yet, at the end of the story we see that God can take the worst hardships, the worst suffering, and the worst sin to achieve his good purposes. If it is not God-sent, it does not mean that it cannot be God-used.
God speaks through suffering. Your hardships, your pain, can all been redeemed into something utterly, unrecognizably good and ultimately life-saving. C.S. Lewis says:
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts to us in our suffering.”
If there’s one person who would have understood how Esther felt, facing the genocide of her entire people group, it was the Jews facing another genocide thousands of years later. And yet, found on a cellar wall, written by a Jew in hiding during World War 2 was this inscription:
“I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining. I believe in love, even when I do not feel it. I believe in God, even when he is silent.”
I wonder, do you believe in God even when He seems to be silent?
Four Questions To Ask
One day, I suspect, we will be able to speak to him like I am speak to you, but for now we live in the tension of the God who speaks silently. So, in the meantime, what are we to do? If you are feeling like God is silent, and even if you’re not, there are four things you can do to help you recognize when God has spoken to you silently:
- Take a look back over your life and consider every little thing, every minuscule detail that lead you to the seat you are sitting in right now. How would life be different if one little thing had changed? Could God have spoken through your circumstances?
- Think back to every timely word that you have received from others — every word of encouragement that spurred you to carry on, every word of rebuke that set you back on the right path. Could God have spoken through the people around you?
- Consider all the lessons that you’ve learnt through the most difficult times in your life. Consider how those lessons were only possible because you went through what you went through and, if you’re honest, you wouldn’t even be the person you are today had you not gone through the things you went through. Even though you wouldn’t wish you pain on anyone could God have spoken to you through it?
- Allow yourself to feel the longing inside. If you’re really honest with yourself, your soul longs for God, just as the Bible says, the deer longs for the waters. Could God be speaking, even right now, through the longing that you have inside to know Him? To really know if he’s there? Where do you think that longing comes from?
One Last Thing
We worship a God who speaks silently most of the time, but he does still speak, just like in the story of Esther, through our circumstances, through the words and deeds of others, through our own longing, and through human suffering. And if that’s not enough for you, then consider this one last thing.
Even Jesus knew what it was like to experience the absence and the silence of God — to feel ignored by God. Yes even Jesus! He knew what it feels like. The day before his arrest, Jesus prayed for unity amongst the believers. The next day he watched his friends — the disciples — scattering and hiding, whilst his enemies, Pilate and Herod were united. In the garden Jesus asked that the cup of suffering be taken away from him. It wasn’t. Finally, on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? And there was no answer from Heaven. Not a word. BUT, through Jesus’ rejection on the Cross, we have been accepted as sons and daughters into God’s family.
Previously published on medium
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