God on Mute: When God seems absent

I’ve been reading God on Mute for Lent, which ended at the weekend. There is much in the book that has both challenged me and opened my mind to understanding unanswered prayer in ways I’d never considered before. The book looks at various reasons why God might not appear to answer our prayers – in the time we want, the way we want or why we want them.

What is clear is that, even when he is silent, God hears our every prayer. Every song, praise, outpouring and simple ‘Jesus’ or ‘God bless’, He hears it all, but answering all those prayers the way we expect is quite a different matter.

I wanted to reflect on Chapters 10 and 11 from the book, Exploring and Engaging the Silence, which explores why, at times, God might choose to be silent. I don’t mean listening to prayer and answering it later or in a different way, but actually withdrawing from intervening in our lives.

When Jesus became an atheist
This part of the book reflects on the theme of Easter Saturday, a holy day that is vastly overlooked and understated. Easter Saturday is the time when Jesus was dead. When God was silent for him and for the world. He went down into death like any other person. God was gone.

Jesus, effectively, became an atheist. The resurrection was to follow, he knew that, but he also knew he had to go through the pain of Saturday. The Saturday expressed the despair and utter hopelessness of death without God, without heaven, without love. Nothing. It was a period of agonising waiting. In many ways, we are all now living this Saturday, while we wait for the joy, peace and grace of tomorrow’s paradise. It’s a concept I often reflect on in my grief.

Jesus cried out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ as he was dying. Words also written in the Psalms (Psalm 22:1. 16-18). Not only did he feel the physical and emotional pain of all sin, but even worse, the total absence of God, his father. Jesus’ words expressed the feelings we all feel at times – of doubt and a collapse of faith. Yet, at his hour of most need, his father had to step back.

I just read this moving article by Joey Feek’s husband about how in the months leading up to her death she painfully but determinedly distanced herself from her young daughter in order for her daughter to create a stronger bond with her husband, which would benefit both her daughter and her husband in their grief after her death. You can only imagine the strength it took for her to do that when every fibre of her being would want to hold her child every minute until she couldn’t anymore. God felt this too, as he left his son to die, yet He knew it had to be this way. We, even 2000 years on, still find it hard – with our human minds – to fully comprehend this seeming deliberate withdrawal of love.

Growing into spiritual maturity
What challenged me was what the author, Peter Greig, describes as moving on from the ‘infatuation’ with God to a mature relationship with Him.
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Breathe deeply in faith

I’ve realised that it doesn’t take much these days to break me. I always mourn my daughter harder when life feels tough…illness, sleep deprivation, anxieties, parenting challenges all set to chip away at my weary soul.

Women, mothers, hold up so much. We carry so much burden to alleviate the physical and emotional burden on others. We keep things ticking. Our minds work at a thousand paces. Yet we are human too.

I pray for patience then sin with words. I pray for peace then sin with angry thoughts. I feel I should be more. Be calmer, milder, more accepting but that only seems to create the opposite as I fail to live up to my own expectations. I’m not happy with my behaviour. I beat myself up. I’m irritable. And perhaps worst of all, I feel desperately alone. Pressures God knows I don’t need.

Today, I prayed a psalm of thanks which fell open in my Bible. I then prayed for God’s help, again. My prayers feel selfish but I poured it out to God in the brief moment I had without a child’s demands. I opened my Lent book, God on Mute, by Peter Greig, and read this quote…  Yet again I realise that, in prayer, I don’t need to search too far or for too long to find comfort and guidance just to…

…breathe deeply in faith.

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‘Where is your God now?’

While there are many commonalities to being a Christian, a relationship with God is a deeply personal thing. Those who believe have ways of talking to or hearing God. Some people come to the faith through deliberate reasoning and learning, others simply grow into the faith, and then there are those who have the encounters with God that most of us pray for. But one thing I noticed, and have wrestled with, is how the relationship with God can change after a bereavement or period of suffering.

Until fairly recently, I was happy to pray to God, to ask Him for help with a problem, to pray for my family, to pray for healing, but when those prayers were not answered I felt confused and alone. Isn’t it true that when something goes well we believe that was God answering our prayers (and, perhaps, we take just a smidge of the glory by thinking it was thanks to us praying in the the first place!), yet when something goes badly we are stumped as to what happened, and don’t know what to say.

Reading about Jesus’s last days on earth, I understood how he knew he had to take the burden of our sin onto himself, he had to take the suffering of our bodies and minds, and worst of all, he had to be abandoned by God, his Father. He had to know what it was like to live without God, just as the people were doing. When our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be, it can feel this way for us.

‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’
Matthew 27:46

Yet, at the hour of his suffering and abandonment, Jesus put himself entirely into God’s hands.

Feeling is believing
After my daughter died, I knew in an instant that I wasn’t alone in my grief. That Jesus was there – right there – grieving with me. It was a comfort but it also left me feeling more confused than ever. I was totally separated from God at that point in my life. I hadn’t lived a very Christian life. If anything, I felt nothing but anger at my decision that it was ‘all untrue’. I felt spiritually alone. So I was shocked to feel this overwhelming sense of spiritual love.

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