The Silence of the Lamb – What is happening when we can not hear Christ in our time of sorrow.
"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani" -- My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? -- is haunting whether it is sung in a Synagogue or read in Matthew 27: 46 or in the full context at Psalms 22:1-21ff.
Of all the miracles in life, the one that is both the softest and the strongest is the voice and presence of God in our lives. But at times, God is silent and the Spirit is withdrawn. Not only do we not receive the tangible miracles we expect or hope for or have seen, but God seems to be withdrawn as well.
Sometimes the Spirit of the Lord is grieved and withdraws from us because of sin, especially if we wrongfully oppress others. We are all familiar with stories and examples and similar things in our lives (e.g. if you lift weights and then quit, you will lose strength over time, if you quit praying and related activities, you will grow weaker in spirit). But the issues go far deeper than those shallow examples, and with more complexity.
This is especially true since silence, especially in the face of suffering and loss, seems to draw the most anguish of all (and, the essence of a fallen world is suffering and loss – which is all death is). We know that God’s silence compelled Christ to voice. We are not greater than He and his silence to us causes us to give voice as well.
The Sounds of Silence
Before silence can be talked about with any intelligence, we need to talk about the various sounds, looks and feels of silence – a collection I refer to as the sounds of silence.
Chaim Potok’s book, The Chosen, (a good summary for the purposes of this discussion is at: summary) talks about a man who raises his son in silence, never talking to him. “He also explains why he raised his son in silence--it was to teach him to listen to silence, to learn compassion, to develop a soul to go with his magnificent mind.” If our purpose here in life is to grow, (vs. life as a replacement for amusement parks and television) then silence makes a good metaphor for the general distance between our state and God.
There are some God is silent with in order to teach them to hear.
A young child, who I will not identify by name, once banged her shin. To reduce the sensory load, she closed her eyes as she hopped about complaining about first the pain and then that she could not see. Some times we can not hear God, can not see his hand, can not feel his Spirit because we are so overloaded that we close down.
Of course, sometimes we are faced away from God, through our decisions to turn from him to our sins. While that is the reason many think of most often (read Job and consider the advice and comments of his “friends” – all they could do is insist he had some terrible hidden sin), that approach is scarcely useful for understanding God’s silence with the just (such as Job) and the humbled.
In addition, sometimes our spiritual senses have atrophied so much we have difficulty hearing God over any sort of background noise, including that of our own sorrow or pain. That same child who closed her eyes, also yelled pretty load and also complained that she couldn’t hear me. She had to quit shouting before my voice would come through. The more background noise or internal noise, the less atrophy we need before we can not hear anything over ourselves.
There are also other times of silence (such as when Oliver Cowdrey was praying to God for an answer and God finally spoke, saying “remember, I already answered this question, think on the answer I gave you before” [paraphrased]).
Thinking and listening
If we start with the beginning, which is that the world is fallen, telestial, and fails of the glory and joy of God, imperfection and sorrow become the side effects of mortality, not the purpose of them or their end. In a blog entry, I can not give this foundation the pages of text it deserves, but it provides a beginning place.
Of course sorrowful events do not make the world a better place because, by definition, the world is not a better place. As Paul said, if we live in this world only, those who know Christ would be of all the most miserable because they would know more than any others the depth of how unfair and fallen the world is. In the world is not where we expect consolation.
In addition, in the world is not where miracles, tangible or not (see my earlier post) dominate – they come only after faith, not before and not in place of faith.
Finally, God has warned us that he will try each of us, purifying our faith and giving us experience. This life ends in death, the question is when, not if. All that is required of us is to draw breath, the rest is a gift of experience and choice so valuable from an eternal perspective that those who await being born are willing to be born any time, any where and in any condition.
It is only from our perspective that God has failed us by giving us what we so much desired when we had a full perspective.
So why the Silence
God gives us silence for many reasons.
In some cases, we grasp silence and God allows us to hold to it until we release, open our eyes, and hear, all at once, like the unnamed child I’ve referred to above who closed her eyes and her ears as she coped with pain.
In some cases, God gives us silence to teach us or to allow us the fullness of experience that would otherwise not be complete without silence. Christ on the cross had silence that he spoke into, both for his experience and for our teaching (so that we could learn from his experiencing silence).
At other times, silence comes upon us as all other experiences do, because the world is imperfect or because we are.
I have faced silence. Once to teach me that I had learned a lesson and could do certain things without “training wheels” so to speak. At other times to aid me in learning charity, as a direct answer to prayers seeking to learn compassion and love. I’ve experienced silence that gave me perspective of how people live and think and cope in silence so that I could understand them better. And, I’m certain that I’ve also experienced not hearing the voice of God or seeing his hand or feeling his Spirit to know his will, at times, because of my own sins or failures of effort.
Finally, I’ve experienced silence because it wasn’t time for an answer or I had gotten an answer and wasn’t listening to it.
Silence is a deep subject, of which this is only an introduction to start a conversation, not the end of the answers. But there is a rhythm and meaning, a touch, sound and look to silence that is too often too easy to miss, and that leaves us feeling in the silence of the Lamb of God that we have been sacrificed rather than sacrificed for. It is my testimony that while we may not understand, the one truth is that God loves his children and that no silence, no depth or height or loss or sorrow, power or dominion can separate us from that love if we only allow that love into our hearts and bear patiently until the silence is quiet and the voice of God speaks again.