What do we make of ‘the silence of God’?

Published 29th June 2020 by lucy moore

Martyn Payne writes: God’s silence was the focus for our Messy Church distanced quiet morning recently. Each of us involved found ourselves prayerfully exploring different aspects to this topic.
But surely God is never silent? God is always speaking to us, it’s just that we’re not listening or maybe have forgotten how to listen.
And anyway, why would God need to keep on talking? Surely God has already spoken clearly through scripture, through creation and most powerfully ‘in these last days through Christ’ (Hebrews 1:1-2).
But let’s be honest, what about the times when there seem to be no answers to our prayers and no words of guidance, those occasions, such as we find in the psalms, when the writers despair of hearing God’s voice? We have all been there and maybe are now.
Our reflections were guided by some simple questions, which you might like to think about too:

What part does silence play in your life? How do you respond to silence? What words or images come to mind when you think about silence?
Are there any insights from this that help us understand why God often chooses to be a silent God?

Maybe God appears so often silent because God is listening so much.
Maybe ‘the silence in heaven’, described in Revelation 8, is in fact space for God to listen to the prayers of the saints – our prayers being listened to by the God of the universe!
Maybe God is just too polite and respectful of you and me to push responses on to us when we are not yet ready to listen.
Maybe silence is one of the languages in which God speaks to us.
Maybe we tend to focus overmuch on answers to prayers, when in fact the best ‘answer’ we can have is that God is listening.
We were prompted to open our Bibles between the Old and New Testaments, where we encounter 400 years of God’s silence. And in fact in many places in the word there are times of no words at all. It’s often only in hindsight that we can recognise that God was not silent in these ‘in the meantime’ spaces. But at the time, it’s definitely not easy to hear well-meaning Christian friends say that God is ‘building our faith’ or ‘teaching us lessons’ when prayers go unanswered and we cannot make sense of what’s happening!
We looked at the psalms, particularly the cry for God to say something in the midst of suffering in Psalm 22, which surely was on Jesus’s lips as he hung on the cross. And Psalm 42, where the psalmist despairs that prayer is getting him nowhere. It’s so good that here and elsewhere in the Bible, we can find honest experiences of the silence of God.
And what about the silence of these last lockdown months? What good can we begin to see coming out of this silence for ourselves personally, for the church generally and, of course, specifically for Messy Church and the way ahead? Maybe only hindsight will reveal the answers here too.
Our time together prompted two poems (which are linked at the bottom of this blog), as well as word pictures that helped us to face up to what silence means for us in our walk with God.
Messy Church doesn’t usually allow for much silence, but should it? And if so, how? We began to explore these questions towards the end of our time together with thoughts about: God speaking through the non-verbal ways of learning that we have in abundance in this style of church; the listening space we can offer to children and adults at the activity tables; the spaces where we might encourage silence after the singing, within the story and as part of the prayers. 
Maybe we all need to learn how to imitate the silence of God more often, stilling our noisy praying and many words. Only then can God’s words bubble up inside us and become our own – God’s Spirit inspiring the answers  to our own prayers. Such ‘words out of silence’ are very powerful ‘like apples of gold in a setting of silver’ (Proverbs 25:11).
Check out the poems:

Is God silent?
Speak into the silence, Lord

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