Perhaps the hardest experience in the Christian life is to suffer and experience divine silence. It seems inconceivable. You lose a baby, you are shamefully victimized, or go through what feels like death itself, and you wonder, “Where is God? How could he be silent, distant or idly watching when this is happening?” If even bad fathers do something when their kids are being abused, why would the Good Father let us go through such turmoil without a peep?
This question—where was God?—is so hard and so important. There is not one correct answer. What is both true and helpful for one person might seem hollow to the next. But we all must reckon with the question. If we haven’t already asked it, we will. So how would you answer it? How have you answered it?
The most obvious answer is to ask God himself. The question to him is a fair one, but you might notice incipient unbelief in that you don’t believe that God hears you or is accessible. Unbelief prefers to talk about God rather than to him. Rule number one is to talk to the Lord, especially during hardships.
Your first words might be: Where were you? Later you might consult those who have said similar words (e.g., Ps. 22) and pattern your question with their entreaties in mind.
Let God ask you a few questions
This is the pattern in the book of Job. Job’s counselors say a lot that is good and some that is not, so it is hard to glean a response to our question from them. But God himself responds to Job—not priests, prophets, or friends but God himself speaks, and that is the kind of direct response we are looking for. He asks Job a series of rhetorical questions, beginning with:
“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (Job 38:2-3)
Then God continues this Father-son conversation through sixty-five or so questions. At the end, Job receives that most prized possession—the fear of the Lord. This brings with it humility and the knowledge that God is God, and we are not.
This would seem to put an end to our search, but that is not necessarily so. Scripture says more after the climactic event of the Christ’s death and resurrection. What was anticipated is now fully revealed. As such, we can ask the question again.
The Son suffers, the sons and daughters suffer
The answer Job received is expanded in the New Testament. God has determined that his Kingdom on earth will be moved forward by his suffering people. Yes, he uses everyone who turns to him in faith, but the real influencers in the Kingdom have been those who are familiar with hardships. We participate in and fill up the sufferings of Jesus (Rom. 8:17, Col. 1:24). This is another mystery and does not really answer the question of why, but it does show us that the church will not be spared the hardships of fallen human life. He certainly is not silent, and he has put us among fine company.
Wait and hope
You went through the darkest of times and you did not receive anything tangible from the Lord. You felt shut out, even reprimanded. But there is still more information up ahead, and it will change everything.
“For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay’” (Heb. 10:37). And the emphasis is on “a very little while.” A time is coming when we will tell parts of our stories differently. What is now: “wait,” will someday be: “for the briefest of moments.” What is now suffering will somehow be replaced with glory.
Read the book of Revelation and see the whirlwind of activity. Prayers are being brought up in bowls before the Lord and armies of angels are being dispatched. Heaven, the place of God’s throne, is buzzing with anticipation for the end of days, when the King returns and bring the fullness of shalom with him.
These are just some of the ways that God communicates to his suffering people.
Edward T. Welch (M.Div., Ph.D.) counsels and teaches at CCEF. He is the author of When People Are Big and God is Small.
CCEF: Since 1968, the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (ccef.org) has set the pace in biblical counseling. We teach people how to explore the wisdom and depth of the Bible and apply its grace-centered message to the problems of daily living. Simply put our mission is to: Restore Christ to Counseling and Counseling to the Church. We offer conferences, courses, resources and counseling. Follow us on twitter and facebook.