Where God is Silent
AUGUST 3, 2016
A pastor friend recently emailed me about attending the annual national meeting of his denomination. He had decided not to go, but another pastor sent him a fairly strong message admonishing him to go and listing the reasons he should be there, starting with “If you really loved Jesus…”
He wanted my advice.
I told him I had missed a lot of church meetings when, in retrospect, I probably should have gone. “On the other hand,” I said, “I’ve gone to a lot of church meetings when I would have been better off going to a bar. If you want to know what I would do, to be on the safe side, I wouldn’t go.” Then I said to my friend, “Wouldn’t it be nice if God just told us what to do and be a bit more forthcoming?”
I’ve often said to God, “You won’t talk to me when I ask for your help! If you just told me what to do, I would do my best to do it, but you won’t tell me. You know me…I’ll make some horrendous mistake or commit some horrible sin. So when that happens, I refuse to feel guilty. It will be your fault because you won’t talk…so there!”
Deuteronomy 29:29 teaches, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
I can imagine that those “secret things” are pretty profound and beyond the ability of our finite minds to understand. But I also suspect that some of those “secret things” are a bit more pedestrian…Did the washing machine really eat my sock? Why is everything I like fattening? Why do women get so upset when we leave the toilet seat up?
However, there are three areas in which God doesn’t talk that are fairly clear in Scripture.
For instance, God doesn’t talk much about how bad I am. It’s not that he doesn’t want to “hurt my feelings”…it’s because I would be absolutely crushed by that kind of knowledge.
When Jesus drew big crowds in the early part of his ministry, John wrote that Jesus did not trust himself to those people because “he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).
Do you remember in John 13 when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet? Peter was not altogether happy about that prospect and said so. “If I do not wash you,” Jesus said not unkindly, “you have no share with me.” Peter’s reply was a frustrating one as in, “Oh, spit. Then don’t stop with my feet. Wash all of me.” Jesus, among other things, was saying to Peter, “You’re a lot dirtier than you think you are.” And Peter, once he thought about it, granted that that was probably true.
The truth is that I’m a lot worse than I think I am. When I was young I thought that, by this time, I would be a lot better than I am…because when I was young, I thought I was a lot better than I was. I suppose there are some areas where I am better, but more important than that, age has allowed me to see that I could be a lot worse than I am…and I’m so thankful that I’m not as bad as I wanted to be. The Psalmist prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me…” (Psalm 139:23-24). I don’t pray that prayer often because God once answered it and it almost killed me. I had to tell him to stop because I couldn’t stand any more.
A student in a preaching lab course once told me to be hard on him and added, “Dr. Brown, I can take it.” I thought, but didn’t say, “No, you can’t, son. If I told you how bad you really were at preaching you would give up trying and go into vinyl repair.” At the risk of being very presumptuous, God sometimes tells us the same thing when we pray, “Show me myself…I can take it.”
God also rarely tells us how good we are. I love 2 Corinthians 11 and 12 when the Apostle Paul, in his pride, starts bragging. Paul knows he’s bragging, confesses it and yet then keeps doing it. (You gotta love it!) Then Paul says that God, in order to keep him from becoming arrogant, gave him a “thorn in the flesh” to harass him.
I surprised myself the other day. As I told you, after five months of frustration with my hearing, believe it or not, I finally prayed, “Father, if you want me to be like this for the rest of my life, I won’t like it. I’ll probably say you don’t love me. I’ll do a lot of ‘cussing and spitting,’ but I will accept it, and affirm your wisdom and goodness. Bottom line, I trust you.”
(For those of you who asked, thanks for your prayers. I can hear now, using hearing aids that are smarter than I am. And I’ve discovered that there are a lot of things I don’t want to hear. (:)
Anyway, my prayer was so good that I could hardly wait to tell you.
Jesus said that was the problem. Jesus knows that if he gives me an inch, I will take a mile. So I have to trust in faith that I’m getting better because God certainly won’t let me know. He told me that I’m self-righteous enough already and, if he showed me more, I would become insufferable.
Let me tell you something. The finest, most obedient and most faithful Christians don’t know that they are fine, obedient and faithful…and nobody else does either.
One other area. God rarely talks about how good or bad “they” are either. Paul wrote, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).
As you know (I’m writing this in June), Orlando recently went through a very horrible tragedy where a crazy Islamic terrorist killed some 49 people in a gay bar. (As I write this, some of those who were shot are still in the hospital in critical condition and that figure may rise.) We had a prayer service at our church right after the tragedy and a number of pastors in our community participated. It was a wonderful service and Jesus showed. One of the pastors prayed for the families of those who had lost their lives and then, to my surprise, prayed for the family of the killer. My heart rejected that. Frankly, I didn’t care about that man or his family. Then I thought, His mother weeps beside an open grave too. Those who loved him are feeling the loss probably as much as the families of those he shot.
The truth is that the most horrible sinner you know has a story you don’t know, and the most loving and faithful person you know does too. You don’t know either story. Why isn’t God telling us the “rest of the story”? I’m not sure, but I think it’s because of our proclivity to worship at altars other than God’s, and to demean, judge and dismiss those who are evil and who do evil things. Frankly, we can’t love the way Jesus said to love if we knew the “rest of the story.”
Gigi Graham once told me that she was through judging other people. She said, “I’ve just decided to love them all. Anything else is above my pay grade and I’ll let God worry about that.” She then added, “I asked my father and he said I was right.”
Billy Graham and his daughter are right. As it’s been said, when you see someone who has sinned, you don’t know how hard they tried not to sin and how strong the forces arrayed against them, or how you would have handled it if those forces were arrayed against you. I agree with that but would add to it. When we see someone who is faithful and obedient, we don’t have the foggiest idea what is going on in their heart or how much they have to fake it in order to appear faithful and obedient. And God isn’t going to tell us because we would find an excuse to worship or hate both.
So God doesn’t talk much about us or about them. Sometimes it’s quite irritating but it’s for the best. Silence really is sometimes golden.
He asked me to remind you.