Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Silence of the Lamb – What is happening when we can not hear Christ in our time of sorrow.

Introduction

"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 But at times, God is silent and the Spirit is withdrawn. Not only do we not receive the tangible miracles we expect or hope for or have seen, but God seems to be withdrawn as well.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.

Conclusion

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.

Stephen

10 comments:

Megan said...

It was a long entry so I did not read it through and through,however, I think there is a flaw. You say that god withdraws from those who have sinned. What about cases where God withdraws from a person who has not sinned, rather people have sinned in thier actions toward that person. Why would the person be punished on behalf of others? Perhaps this question is better understood once you think of the perspective it needs to be addressed from: that of a former cult member.

Stephen said...

Kate,

Too bad you didn't read the entire post. The entire thrust of it was to address those times that God withdraws when people are not sinning (and, I do brush against Job's friends who sinned towards him, though that is a complete essay by itself).

Visited your blog Really, I should not be allowed to write when I am angry over matters of betrayal, overt stupidity, and lack of a support structure. Yet there is no one to stop me, and whoever said biting criticism was not fun? caught my attention, though the color scheme was painful to my eyes.

Sorry about your pain and betrayal.

lchan said...

Stephen,
This is a beautiful post. I have always envisioned God as something that we can mover closer to or farther from (not God choosing to remove Himself from us), but I really love your perspective.

I think of God as being silent, almost perpetually. But when I have felt the spirit or felt God's love, it was a beautiful silence.

I see God as the wind (inspired by Proverbs 30:4: Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists?). If I try to pin down what God is, catch the wind in my fists, I am left with nothing. But if I simply believe, I can feel the wind blow. It is soft, but real.

Stephen said...

Ichan,

Thanks for your comment. I just read "The Color of Water" (about, among other things, the color that God is) and I like the idea of God being like the wind.

Stephen said...

A great essay on God speaking is at:

http://mormondoctrine.blogspot.com/2005/04/sunstone-west-2005.htmlhttp://mormondoctrine.blogspot.com/2005/04/sunstone-west-2005.html

annegb said...

A beautiful and profound exploration of silence. My husband and I were just discussing yesterday that subject. My friend taught us once in Relief Society a quote from Brigham Young: "Sometimes God wants us to be righteous in the dark" I probably mangled it, but her point was sometimes God is just quiet because He's giving us the opportunity to stretch.

Stephen, I don't ever want a free pass from hurting others or being insensitive. I didn't mean to be blase, honestly. This woman was telling me how people are saying, "it's been six months already, get over it" and I said, "you get to choose how long you take and how you act." That was the context.

I love this post on silence, though. Actually, I like quiet at all times,and when I am quiet, I usually hear God better. I try to put God in the place of how I feel towards my grandchildren, how much I love and adore them, (because my parents weren't loving, no perspective there), and I think I might just sometimes sit back and let Maxwell handle a fight on his own and he might think I'm not there, but I am, giving him that opportunity to handle it, or to let Rhiannon stumble and fall as she learns to walk (think Carol Lyn Pearson). I'm quiet, but I'm watching, and loving, and caring, and ready to lend a hand.

Sometimes I hear "be still and know that I am God." sometimes I say "Jesus, thou son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" a prayer I learned from my monk friend.

Good thought provoking, and best of all, positive, post.

Stephen said...

annegb

I should have been clearer. I try to assume (though I often fail) that people mean well and that they would be justified by context. With some people I do better.

And, in your case, I was right.

For a process that the literature indicates takes 3-5 years at a minimum, Stephen, I don't ever want a free pass from hurting others or being insensitive. I didn't mean to be blase, honestly. This woman was telling me how people are saying, "it's been six months already, get over it" and I said, "you get to choose how long you take and how you act." That was the context. pretty much shows that the woman needed exactly what you told her.

I really appreciated your comments.

annegb said...

One of the hardest things I've had to overcome is the idea that people who haven't lost a child have, that after 6 months, or whatever, we are better.

With me, it's been 13 years, and just this year, I'm feeling better.
I still cry (alone) when I think of my sons (Davey died 32 years ago August), it will never stop hurting. But I feel serenity and joy a lot of the time, and hope. Never thought that would happen.

It's hard for me to read the stories of others losses, too close to the heart. Do you have the same problem? I listen, though, because I know how much it helps to talk about them. They are so real to us.

I really like the idea of silence, though, I've thought about that off and on all day. I think of it more as quiet. I love quiet.

How is your wife doing? Did you read my quote--not exact--how Pearl Buck wrote in her mother's biography (she lost four children in China) about how we love and miss their bodies. I really miss their bodies. My grandchildren have helped fill that void.

Stephen said...

My wife is doing as well as I am. She is hoping to find a place where she doesn't have to work 24 hour shifts or nights, but you know how it is.

She is so wonderful. With a 16 year old and a five year old I'm glad I don't have grandchildren, though at 49, I often feel like I should have a few.

And you are right, I miss them so.

Susan M said...

Great post, Stephen.