The Bible is a record of God speaking.
He speaks creation into being. And through the words he speaks to us through others, our faith comes into being. As Paul writes in Romans 10, “faith comes by hearing.”
But here’s the question: Is God ever silent?
If no, what is he saying right now?
If yes, why is he silent?
They are two radically different answers, which lead in two radically different directions, with two completely different sets of questions of their own.
And here’s the thing: We tend to answer that question based on our experience of silence or our experience of God speaking. If God feels silent to us, then we say, “Of course, God is silent most of the time.” If God feels close and vocal to us, then we say, “Of course, God is speaking all the time.”
Here’s a story which helps me with this.
My first big crush was on Anne.
I was in sixth grade and just about as whipped as a boy can be by a girl.
She lived three houses down from me at the end of our dead-end street. And I used to sit by the window, listening to the longing lyrics of “Hey Jude” by The Beatles, hoping she would walk up the street, just so that I could get a glimpse of her.
I was so stupidly infatuated that three times in one summer, when we were at the swimming pool at the end of our street, she called me over to talk with her next to the pool and then pushed me in — with all my clothes on. But I kept falling for it, because I had fallen for her.
But one winter, she and two other guys from our little street went up to the mountains with a group of other kids for a winter weekend camp.
The snow was deep, and there were long icicles hanging from the cabins. Huge ones.
Well, the three of them ditched me. So, I was wandering around by myself, looking for the biggest icicle. Eventually, I found one that was so big I couldn’t get my gloved fingers around it. But I snapped it off of the cabin and was carrying it with me, when all of a sudden the three of them reappeared, ambushing me with snowballs.
I fell down in the onslaught and broke my icicle. [Cue sad background music.]
Humiliated to be ditched and ambushed and angry to be wet and have my icicle broken, I threw the leftover stump of ice at the closest of the three.
It hit Anne square in the nose and left the absolute biggest shiner under her eye that I’ve ever seen. It was a black eye Rocky would have been proud to have dished out (if it hadn’t been a girl).
Well, now I was completely messed up.
I had given a black eye to the girl I was head over heels for. I was angry and forlorn all at the same time. She would never like me back now. [Cue sad background music.]
So, I did what any reasonable sixth grader would do: I totally shut her off. Thus began the silent treatment, the cold war.
For six months, I didn’t talk to Anne. Which was tough to do, since we lived on a small street. Our dads worked together across the street as faculty at a small Bible school. And we could hardly avoid each other at church or elsewhere. Our lives were ridiculously entangled.
But the silent treatment endured … until one day, during the following summer. We were at the Bible school’s swimming pool, and she swam over to me. I still remember sitting on the top rung of the ladder in the deep end. And she apologized.
I don’t think she knew what she was apologizing for, but she did it anyway.
And that was that. The ice cracked. The distance between us was gone. But so, too, was the crush. From then on, she and I were able to be just friends.
Later on, she told me how confusing the whole thing had been to her. I had given her a black eye, and yet she had to apologize to me? How did that work?
Now, here’s the point: I wasn’t the only one being silent, was I? Anne was being silent, too. But her silence was a different sort from mine. She had been ready to speak to me all along. But my silent treatment of her kept her from speaking to me.
So, the question is: Which one of us was in God’s position in the story? Was it me, punishing Anne by my silence? Was it Anne, being punished by me with my silence and waiting for a chance to finally speak again?
O God, do not keep silent;
be not quiet, O God, be not still (Psalm 83:1).
O God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent (Psalm 109:1).