Where is God these days? Is he paying any attention to my life and needs? Does he know what’s going on in our lives? In our families, churches, and neighborhoods? We hear in church that God rules the universe and knows every thought we think, and every act we do. So why is it that he seems so uninvolved with our practical needs? We pray, yet he hardly ever answers—or, for many of us, he never answers—so it’s hard to take him seriously.
I suspect this exposes an unstated question shared by many Christians—and one that also keeps many non-believers from taking Christianity seriously: “Why is God silent?” Some ask if he even exists. What makes the silence even more troubling is that Christians constantly link love to God, as if his love for us is a basis for faith. Do love and language not go together? So the rhetoric of Christianity seems not to be matched by God himself. What is more, most legitimate claims about God speaking are from the distant past—located in events of 2000 or more years ago. Did God lose his voice back then? Does he really care for us if he never talks to us?
Let me ask another question. What is God’s point of view? Everything written so far has been biased by our human point of view, a viewpoint that requires God to meet our expectations. Given that God is greater than we are—as creator to creation—the question we need to ask instead is whether we are meeting his expectations.
And with that comes another question: have we been listening to the ways in which he is speaking? Is it possible that he is a great communicator who longs for us to listen him? Could it be that our sinful disinterest is really the problem? That, while having ears, we don’t hear; and while having eyes, we still don’t see?
Listen to God, for instance, speaking to a group of spiritual skeptics centuries ago: “when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen and when I called you, you did not answer” [Jer. 7:13]. The people of that era were blaming God for not listening to them, but from God’s point of view they were actually ignoring him. And God certainly did not quit trying to get through to humans after the era of Jeremiah. Later on he went so far as to send us his Son to express himself in terms humans could literally grasp. Consider, for instance, the Son’s title in John 1:1&14 where he was introduced as God’s “Word” made flesh.
Let me press that point. God made us to be communicators because it represented his own relational image. Our own ability to communicate is based in God’s eternal Triune relationality—a state of being in which the Son is the expression of all that the Father is. That is, he is the Word for God and the Word who is God. When he was transfigured on the mountain for the three apostles to see—fully exposed in his divine glory for a few moments—the Father underscored the point of the event by proclaiming aloud from heaven, “listen to him!” But the fact is, most people in his own day did not listen to him.
I suppose many of us would excuse ourselves from that crowd—I would!—by aligning ourselves with the disciples who did listen to him. We, after all, are on the side of Jesus. Our only complaint is that he no longer speaks to us as he did in the times he lived on earth. We would certainly listen to him if he came back today!
Or would we? Here’s my challenge. First, begin by considering what Jesus said to a group of his so-called “disciples” in John 8:30. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The response of this group was remarkable: they immediately disagreed with Jesus! You can see for yourself how the event unfolded by reading the chapter. What I want to point to is an axiom Jesus expressed in this debate: “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here” (8:42). The reason Jesus gave for their not listening is that they had the desires of a different “father”, namely the devil.
Is God really silent? No. We have the words of Jesus, who is God the Son, written in the gospels; and his teaching stands behind the entire New Testament as its guiding impulse. Jesus also assured the listeners of his day that the Old Testament Scriptures reveal him as well. This Bible, with both the Old and New Testaments, is now readily available to us.
The critical question is whether the “love” for Jesus, as a product of our being children of God, is an active motivation for our listening to him. That axiom of John 8 was cited more than once. See, for instance, John 5:42, where Jesus confronted the Bible College and Seminary professors of his day for not seeing how the Old Testament pointed to him. Why were they blind? Jesus answered: “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.” These were men who knew their Bibles, but not the God of the Bible.
The second part of my challenge is this: read your Bible. Read it boldly, as if it is the main way God intends to share himself with us in this day and age. As if it is the boldest, clearest, and most tangible expression of God’s heart to be found on earth. Read it all the way through in just a few weeks, as if God is offering his deep concerns and purposes to you. Read it as a love letter.
When we get to heaven I expect this to happen—just a guess, mind you, but an informed guess—that God will separate religious people in the same way he addresses the non-religious people. Those who love what Jesus says, what he stood for, and what was written about him under the Spirit’s direction (i.e. the Bible) will be asked to form one group. Then he will have those who may have held important positions in their church, and even those who held high degrees in theology, but who didn’t really treat the Bible as a relational resource—i.e. “abiding in his word”—to move into a group that is filled with those who ignored the Scriptures because of their more overt dissaffection. These are all the ‘non-lovers-of-God’ (both religious and non-religious versions) who are ever ready to defend themselves for not reading the Bible because they are too busy. Too many good television shows to watch, perhaps? Or church meetings to attend?
The final addendum to my challenge is this: if you are one who has complained that God is silent, despite our having constant access to a Bible that shares his heart with us in some of the most remarkable and effective ways possible, then consider doing this: ask him, in a brief prayer, to open the eyes of your heart to begin seeing what you may not have seen before—that he loves you. Then begin to read the Bible with the passion it deserves.
Here’s my prediction: with that passion every reader will begin to see God’s point of view, that he is a great communicator and he wants us to listen to all he has to offer. The heart of his message is that his Son is wonderful and that we should listen to him!