For time is but a little lower than eternity, and history is a drama in which both man and G-d have a stake. In its happenings we hear the voice as well as the silence of G-d.*
As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, – Listen and do not hear – the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak…. I want you to pray for me – that I let Him have free hand.
These words could have come off the pages of the Psalms – but they didn’t. They came from the personal journals of Mother Teresa. We know from her personal writings she knew well the agony of the liminal space of G-d’s silence. Some have seen her words as a crisis of faith. In truth, if any Scripture more profoundly affirms a loving and beloved G-d, they would be the Psalms; yet, the Psalms also express an intense and great anguish at G-d’s seeming silence and inactivity in connection with human suffering.
Why do You hide Your face
And forget our affliction and our oppression?
For our soul has sunk down into the dust;
Our body cleaves to the earth.
Rise up, be our help,
And redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.
How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow And my years with sighing;
My strength has failed because of my iniquity,
And my body has wasted away.
We know the embrace of G-ds Love, the warmth of His Light, the gentleness of His Compassion,the wholeness of His Shalom… So how do we make sense of the silence of a G-d who loves in view of all the suffering and evil in the world? The liminal space of G-d’s silence in the place of suffering is one of the most tortured spaces for people of faith. It is a space that can feel not only like a horrible estrangement with our Beloved, but a betrayal by Him also.
One of our gravest mistakes is to take G-d’s silence as passivity. G-d’s silence is, as Rav Kook tells us, that place “in which entire worlds are built.” G-d’s silence is often the speaking that is louder than words. It is the place where we wrestle and, as with Jacob, grab hold and say, “Abba, I will not let You go until you bless me.” Without a doubt it is the place in which we have the deepest and most intense connection with and love for G-d. It is the place we encounter G-d and we come out changed.
Another mistake is to attribute the suffering and evil of the world as caused by the silence of a G-d who says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Evil is not caused by G-d’s silence but by men who do not listen.
But why doesn’t G-d intervene? We read in the Psalms of a loving G-d who could step in but at times doesn’t. As we know and we know and we know, G-d is compassionate, loving, good… So, “Why not?” is a puzzle.
On this side of eternity there are unanswerable questions, unanswerable evils, unanswerable pains, and unanswerable sufferings. Scripture does not provide a final resolution to these questions; we face an unsolvable mystery.
However, Rabbi Abraham Heschel tells us, “…there is meaning beyond mystery. That holiness conquers absurdity. And without holiness, we will sink into absurdity.”
G-d, and not imponderable evil [or unanswerable pain and suffering], must have the last word.** And His Word to us is promise and hope:
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.
There will be a time of total revelation but for now – at times – there is no miraculous healing, no being pulled from the storm, no being plucked from the fire. Sometimes G-d’s answer to us is ‘a voice of thin silence’*** – but in that silence, we find G-d, and He has never been so close.
Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.
Trust G-d with His silence, for out of His eternal silence has come immeasurable richness!
Out of his eternal silence G-d spoke the Word, and through this Word created… the world. In the beginning G-d spoke the land, the sea, and the sky. He spoke the sun, the moon, and the stars. He spoke plants, birds, fish, animals wild and tame. Finally, he spoke man and woman. Then, in the fullness of time, G-d’s Word, through whom all had been created, became flesh and gave power to all who believe to become the children of G-d. In all this, the Word of G-d does not break the silence of G-d, but rather unfolds the immeasurable richness of his silence. ****
~ Cindy Elliott
* Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays, pg 16
** Marvin Wilson, Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage
*** In 1 Kings 19:12 we read about G-d speaking to Elijah not in the strong wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire but in the qol demamah daqah – the still thin voice. Qol is voice, demamah can be translated still or silent, daqah can be translated small or thin.
**** Henry Nouwen and Robert Durback, Seeds of Hope: a Henry Nouwen Reader
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