Silence is a tough thing to interpret. People send me emails and don’t get a response back for a week or two. I occasionally get an apology from them after three days, asking me to ignore their email, sure that the reason I did not respond is because I am mad at them.
The reality is that there could easily be ten other reasons why I am running behind on my emails, and I am not mad at them, just traveling, or teaching or otherwise pursuing more dominant priorities.
I experience the same thing in the wonderful, wacky world of my emails. I emailed my CPA a month ago about a technical question. I heard nothing back. My mind immediately went to the options: lost email; I am making a nuisance of myself; he is on vacation.
In fact, it got lost in the shuffle, and he responded today telling me how to handle it. Cool.
The silences of God also get interpreted quickly and often incorrectly. All too often the devil is there coaching us to see it as a worst case scenario. Either God doesn’t care, or God is mad at us and is the one who is inflicting pain on us.
Clearly this is not an original problem with us or an original lie from the enemy. Knowing what their thoughts were, God intentionally initiated the discussion with Moses by dispelling those lies.
The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians . . .” Exodus 3:7-8 NIV
I like the sequence of the four verbs.
I have indeed seen . . .
We are hugely accustomed to being overlooked in the bigger scheme of things. I have had a rough ten days on the road. At the same time as that, the refugee problem in Europe has escalated. My pain is so trivial compared to the international crisis caused by the refugees that every single news company in the entire world overlooked me. I was not seen. My pain was not newsworthy on the world stage.
And with the cosmic complexities before The Almighty on any given day, it is easy to believe that our pain is not visible to Him.
But it is.
I have heard them crying out . . .
What happened in your childhood when you cried? Some of you were scooped up and comforted with sincerity. Some of you were held and comforted mechanically by a parent who wished you would get over yourself. And some were overtly sent away to do their crying some place where it would not irritate the adults in the household.
For all of those who have been scolded for crying out in their distress, God emphatically included the statement that He heard their distress and was not angry at them for hurting and crying out about their hurt.
I am concerned . . .
The words for “seen” and “heard” were generic Hebrew words. Here however, we have a bit of a surprise. The KJV says, “I know their sorrows;” The word “know” is our beloved yada which means to experience something. I know cognitively that my hostess has placed a bottle of mango and maracuja juice in the ‘fridge in my Prophet’s Chamber. But sometime later today, I will know experimentally what that combination tastes like, since I have often had the two juices separately, but never together.
The Hebrew word translated “sorrows” is used very sparingly in Scripture and refers to the blend of physical and emotional pain that feeds on each other. Back pain can keep you awake night after night. Sleep deprivation clouds your mind and adds emotional pain to the physical pain. And the emotional pain of not being able to function well during the day causes your back pain to become louder.
The combination of these two words says so very much about the nature of God. In one sense, He never worked in the Egyptian brickyard, never felt the lash from the overseer, never dealt with the futility of life as a permanent slave. Yet He was so deeply engaged with His people that He felt it all.
I have friends who have family in war torn regions of the Middle East. While my friends are in the relative safety of the Middle East, they are in close contact with their family there, and through communication, they intimately “experience” the horrors of the war that they are distant from.
This is our God. He tracks with us so closely that He feels our physical and emotional devastation as though it were His own.
I have come down. . .
The war cry of the church has been “Come to Jesus.” While there is something to be said for that theology and the burden on us to respond, the deeper truth is in 1 John 4:19 NIV. “We love because he first loved us.”
So God came. He responded. He acted. He did not just send an emissary. He came to intervene on behalf of His people.
Against that backdrop is the long silence of God. He did not intervene on the first day the Hebrews were enslaved. And shortly after His intervention began, things got an awful lot worse for them. In the end, He rescued them and delivered on the promise of some exceptionally productive land.
How do we put the three together? He ignored them for a looooong painful time. He came with personal, intimate attention. He delivered them massively in the end.
We don’t put it all together in a way that makes sense.
At least I don’t.
The silences of God are too complex for me to resolve. All through Scripture I see long delays in His answering, followed by spectacular intervention. I don’t know where to put that. We so easily default to “If you love me you will respond quickly.”
Because I can’t resolve the conundrum in my limited human mind, I have to choose which direction to go: God cares. God doesn’t care.
I choose to refuse to look at the silences of God in my life and focus instead on the myriad times that He saw, He heard, He cared and He came.
Join me in such a celebration.
Copyright September 2015 by Arthur Burk
From the Prophet’s Chamber