Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Richard was a young theology student, studying to be a minister. He was very genuine, doing his best, but he was struggling with his Christian faith. He had questions and felt he couldn’t find the answers. And so one night, he decided to stake all his faith on the outcome of a single prayer.
God, he cried, I’ve got to find some evidence that you really exist. If you’ll say a word, or become visible, or in some other way let me know for sure of your existence, I’ll give you the rest of my life. Then he added a threat. But if you don’t, he declared, I’m not going to believe in you anymore.
All through the night, Richard waited for God to act. Surely the God who had spoken from Sinai as he had read in the Old Testament, who had healed the sick and raised the dead, would answer such a small request. But God remained silent. He waited, and waited. No voice, no answer. So in the morning, Richard took his Bible and all his Christian books—even the one he himself had just written on the book of Job—and burned them on a barbecue grill.
And I’d like to ask the question, What do we do when the God of the universe seems silent, unfair, or hidden? From the dawn of history, people have struggled with the issue that Richard faced. We pray for guidance, but none seems to come. We plead for loved ones to be healed, but they die. We want our burdens lifted, but more are added instead.
Why does God let me down?
Gradually the disappointment becomes an ache in our heart. We have heard the stories of miraculous rescues and healing from disease. We try to summon the faith that can move mountains. But instead of a voice thundering from Sinai we hear silence. God doesn’t even seem to bother to say yes or no. So we wonder, Why does God let me down? I’m sure a lot of good, genuine people have asked that question.
Tom Sutherland was held hostage in Beirut, Lebanon for six and a half years, from June 1985 to November 18,1991. He experienced terrible conditions: “During his captivity, he was held in 26 locations. Some of his cells were cold, dark, underground 6×6 holes. After 18 months of captivity, Sutherland was put in a solitary underground cell.” He became so discouraged that he tried to commit suicide three different times by pulling a plastic bag over his head, but each time, he would think of his wife and three daughters and stop short of killing himself.
Tom Sutherland was a Christian when he was taken captive—he had even been an elder in his home church—but after his experience in Lebanon, he no longer believes in God. When asked why, Sutherland answered, “I prayed so many times, and so hard, so hard I prayed, and nothing happened.”
Where is God in the middle of our grief?
This is reality—and I suspect that many of us, at one time or another, have felt abandoned by God. This kind of heart-wrenching grief may be the result of a divorce or the death of a child. It may be the result of finding out that you or someone you love has a chronic or life-threatening illness. Whatever the cause for deep despair may be, we become aware of great pain, loss and isolation. When we experience such grief, we may read the Bible and see only empty words. We may go to church and feel alone in the midst of the congregation. We may cry out for God and be met with silence.
The author C. S. Lewis had been married only four years when his wife, Joy, died of cancer. The Lewis couple were very much in love and Joy’s death was almost too much for him to bear. He plunged into a deep depression and did the only thing he knew to do: he wrote. During that time he filled up several journals, which were later compiled and published under the title, A Grief Observed. With the untimely death of his wife, C. S. Lewis’ unwavering faith was called into question. It seemed to him as though God had been present in his life until catastrophe struck. Soon after Joy’s death, Lewis wrote these words:
Where is God? When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon 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 to go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. …What can this mean? Why is God so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in times of trouble? (A Grief Observed, pp. 4-5)
(To be continued in When God Seems Silent – Part 2)