Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Have you ever had the experience of waking up about 3 am and not being able to go back to sleep? I know I have, and it’s annoying isn’t it?
The more you try to sleep, the worst it gets. What can you do? You can get up out of bed, but it’s usually dark and the rest of the family is asleep, and there’s not much you can do. There’s nothing worthwhile on TV.
At 3 am we’re stuck alone with our thoughts and fears. It can be that sometimes people are at their lowest in the early hours, when everything seems hopeless. The prophet Jeremiah was like that. We know because we read about his experiences in the Old Testament when he was burdened for his people. He cried out to God, “I’m burdened with sorrow and feel like giving up. In a foreign land my people are crying. My people are crushed, and so is my heart. I am horrified and mourn. I wish I could go into the desert and find a hiding place from all who are treacherous and unfaithful to God.” (Jeremiah 8)
There’s probably no worse feeling for people of faith than the feeling that God has let them down. But it’s a familiar feeling for many, even people who come to church. These down times are usually brief—a few hours, days or months, but they can last much longer when our troubles just won’t go away.
When you feel like God has let you down
I think of the chronically ill, those who are in pain all the time, or people who’ve been laid off in the prime of life—not just once, but two and three times. I think of husbands and wives whose relationships don’t improve despite everything they try, including prayer. It makes you want to say, Come on God, enough is enough. Do something! But God can take whatever we can dish out, including our accusation that God has let us down. Listen to Jeremiah. He’s angry with God. He’s been doing everything God asked him to do. He’s gone way out on a limb for God. But before the people had a chance to repent and get back on the right track with God, famine and disease struck them down.
God can take whatever we can dish out, including our accusation that God has let us down.
You can hear the frustration and pain in Jeremiah’s voice: The harvest is over, the summer is passed, and we are not saved. In Israel, different crops grow in distinct seasons and Jeremiah is mad at God because when the spring harvest failed, he and the people counted on God for good summer crops. But when summer passed, they were still without food and they had no-one else to provide for them. So Jeremiah lets God have an earful of anger and desperation: You’re not holding up your end of the deal.
We ought to let God have it too, sometimes. But we’re used to praying nice polite prayers to God, but what about when we feel we can take it no longer. Look God—here’s the problem. I’m at the end of my rope and I feel like you’re not helping me. I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do and none of it is helping. What are you going to do about this? We’re so afraid of getting God angry with us that we don’t express our own anger with God.
Tell God how you really feel
Over time, a wall of silence grows up between ourselves and God. We put on the same happy face for God that we do for everyone else. Who needs that? Telling God how it really is with us—the good, the bad, and the ugly—helps. There’s a story in Matthew 8 of the time the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee with Jesus asleep in the back of the boat. A freak storm hits, whips waves into the boat, and it starts to sink. Jesus is with them so they should know that everything will be OK, right?
But what do they do? Do they say, Oh, let’s not trouble him with our petty problems, everything will work out, we have faith, we’re the disciples, we’re the ones who build his church, he can’t let us drown? No. They do what every normal Christian would do: they panic and wake Jesus ever so faithfully with the words, “Lord, help! We’re going down!” Jesus gets up, stops the storm with a word, and gives them a little lecture about their shortage of faith.
God’s silence is not God’s absence
There’s an important lesson here—even if it doesn’t seem like the most faithful thing to do—it’s OK to tell God that you’re drowning. It was only when the disciples finally woke up Jesus that rescue came, not before. We, too, may need to say to God, Hey, I’m drowning. Please. Help. Now! It may not be elegant, but it often gets the job done. Real honest prayer is one way we can respond to that horrible feeling that God has forgotten us.
But what if you’re done praying and you don’t feel any closer to God? What if you finally go to the back of the boat to wake up God and God’s not there? That’s a terrible place to be in. It makes us want to shout with Jesus: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psalm 22; Mark 15:34)
One way to respond to what seems to be God’s absence is through prayer—loud, messy, open prayer. Another way is to remember that just because in a given moment we can’t see, feel, or hear God, this doesn’t mean that God isn’t there.
We cannot interpret God’s silence as indifference to our suffering.
God’s silence is not God’s absence. We can feel alone, but we are not alone. We cannot interpret God’s silence as indifference to our suffering. When God the Father was silent in response to his only Son’s cries, do you think it meant God was apathetic? God’s silence is not a sign of lack of caring. It is not an admission of confusion, impotence or intimidation either.
God’s silence is the silence of quiet confident strength. It’s the kind of silence that says, I know how this is going to work out. I care; but I’m not panicked.
Jeff Gibelius, Pastor
The Presbyterian Church at Pluckemin
P.O. Box 402, 311 Rts. 202-206 North
Pluckemin, New Jersey 07978
© 2007 Jeffrey Gibelius.