In the Midst of Pain, How Can You Be Sure God Loves You?

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One of the persistent questions I hear from unbelievers and believers alike is: How can a loving God remain silent in the face of starvation, disease, war, and injustice? Divine silence dictates that God must not care or is not even there.

When I try these doubts on, they fit like an old familiar shirt. 

I get it.  

After my dad’s death in 1968, I stopped believing in him. I mean, I could not deny he was my father. I had to have come from somewhere. In my grief, I built a case that Dad was no dad at all. I remembered best one emotion: his anger. He was a M-80 who could and did explode any time.

But try as I might, I could not remember hearing him utter those powerful words, “I love you, Eugene.” Dad’s silence was deafening. 

Et Tu, God?

We’ve all heard about God being angry. Silent. This is why some avoid the Old Testament. 

Closer to home, however, God’s tight lipped response to my questions about why Dad died was unbelievable. It was easy to move from not believing in Dad to not believing in God. 

It was either that or face hard, grief-filled questions. This unanswered grief, I believe, is a major root of our culture’s struggle to trust God. 

Too many can recite similar stories. At first they point to God’s maddening silence about starving children in Ethiopia or some real but abstract injustice. But when we pull the scab, we discover the grief comes from a more personal wound. My late sister, a believer for over fifty years, agonized over God’s silence in the last couple of years of her life. She doubted God and that God loved her.

Et tu, reader?

Unspoken Love

When I was around twenty-nine, I was preparing my four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son for a bath. As I pulled their tiny shirts up over their heads I said, “Skin the rabbit!” What a weird thing to say. I froze holding their shirts. As I whisked the kids into the soapy water, I wondered, Where did that come from?

As I tucked them in, a truth rose out of the cavern of my labyrinthian grief. That’s what my dad said as he whisked me into the bath. My dad was a 1950s dad. Coal-miner hard, an auto mechanic, a man! Men back then did not bathe their kids. Ideal dads spanked their kids. Made them eat nasty, mushy, boiled spinach. 

But bathing was an intimate act of nurture and love.

Later that night, my kids in bed, the Redheaded-Wildflower reading, my grief-wound broke open. I finally heard Dad say he loved me. But he didn’t use words. 

I wept. 

That event brought on a cascade of similar memories. Dad taking me fishing, hunting, building fences, working on cars, sweeping the garage. He spent time on me like he was going to live forever.

God’s Most Fluent Language Is Silence

Does silence indicate lack of love, impotence, or nonexistence? No.

The difficulty is that silence allows us to fill it with our own words and ideas. Usually untrue words and ideas. 

Paradoxically silence is the language of love. In the many times I’ve been hospitalized, those sitting with me in silence—not trying to talk me out of my fear, not trying to convince me all is well—have spoken the loudest love.  

During my heart attack the doctor leaned over me and said, “You are six minutes from the hospital with a cath lab.” He described the stent procedure I might undergo. “You’ll be okay.” 

Comforting words, sort of. But he and I both knew I could die in six minutes. Words don’t always assuage fear. Or stave off disaster. God said nothing during my six minute trip to the hospital. But I felt his grip on my mind and heart. God was there.

Saint John of the Cross said, “Silence is God’s first language.”

The Message of Job

This is apparent in the book of Job. Job’s noisy friends gave him every argument for his pain. They were the first to utter that meaningless phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.”  

Despite his friends’ words, Job persisted in the silent presence of God. 

“Oh, how I wish that God would speak,” Job said. Finally God did, asking a series of questions Job could not answer.

“Can you pull in the sea beast, Leviathan, with a fly rod and stuff him in your creel?” (The Message)

What does my wordless creation say about me, Job? God seems to ask.

God asks us the same questions. 

Job shrugs. “I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!” (The Message)

God speaks through silence because our doubts flow from emotion and grief not logic. This is why the ontological arguments for the existence of a loving God leave so many cold and unbelieving. Logic insists that we must believe in God before we ask if God loves us. But our hearts know the true order of things. We know we have to have come from somewhere. Or Someone. Our hearts don’t really doubt that. Our hearts are asking God what I demanded of my deceased father. “Do you love me?”

God knew even a dictionary full of words could not fully answer my doubts about Dad. Therefore, God dredged up a strange memory form my buried relationship with my father. Much like with Job, God asked me a question. “Where did ‘skin the rabbit’ and all these other memories come from?” 

My answer is Job’s: “I’m speechless, in awe—words fail me.”

Does God’s silence mean he doesn’t care or—worse—isn’t there? Stand in the silence as Job did. Then your own eyes and ears will have the answer firsthand.

  • When have you shown love through silence?
  • What are some examples of when you have heard God in silence? 

 

10 thoughts on “In the Midst of Pain, How Can You Be Sure God Loves You?”

  1. Georgie KETTIG

    very profound,… one thing that interested me in “things studied” were “languages”,… it appeared that languages had a “hidden” but underlying “logic”, that had never really occurred to me, until it was pointed out,… then, “boom!”, there it was ~ wow!,… and it seemed that various languages had “orientations” that colored and revealed various aspects of our lives in slightly differing ways, so that being limited to one language (or culture, or cuisine) was actually a condition of “being deprived” of the experience and awareness of others ~ providing so much to study, that even a lifetime isn’t sufficient!,… then I discovered another secret,… once I had actually “learned” and decoded some of the “logic” and specific meanings in a language that formerly “had been Greek to me”, it simultaneously lost a level of the initial fascination and “magic” that had captivated me, when I had “understood” nothing,…

    for example, while shopping in a grocery store, the exotic and charming effect of the sounds of one unknown language being spoken is actually diminished when I’ve studied and now realize that they are just discussing whether or not this particular fruit is ripe, and then those formerly fascinating words and sounds become transformed into something rather mundane, via my own understanding,… so, I finally tempered my zeal for “learning and decoding” everything, and decided to just leave some things to remain as those ineffable “mysteries”,… sometimes it is better to just “not understand everything”!,…

    “mystery” and those “God-filled” (pregnant) silences became more desirable commodities to seek and cultivate in the now overly-explained 24/7 news-commentary-ridden-societies that we inhabit,…

    as humans, we are vulnerable to being “on different perception wave-lengths”,… and very often, we do not realize what we are “tuning in”,… the level of everyday common events and our reactions to them, is one,… but we do also “have an enemy”, who is a counterfeiter, who is able to invade our thoughts with coldness and negativity (and lies), and whose “distortions” we often take way too seriously,… so, the “Good News” is that God has informed us about this, exactly because He loves us, and His plan is that we will ultimately learn to prefer to “tune into” His broadcasts,… and if we do “find His station”, one of His best tricks is to simply overpower the flimsy-but-determined-low-life-competitor’s-noise-and-subversive-distractions with a profound Silence that is actually “full of” and “radiating” His Love,…

    1. Georgie KETTIG

      a couple of things,… I think what I just wrote was more about “discernment”, and not necessarily including “pain” as the significant factor, although “human experience” can run the full gamut of anything imaginable, and often does,… we are vulnerable and sentient beings,… if there were no guidelines and helpful “wisdom” to help us make sense of all the things that we see and feel and go through in life, I’m not sure how we would ever “figure out” what to do or even think,… it seems that we are a bit different from the “creatures” who just seem to go about their lives, guided by what we might call “instinct”, and who seem to more or less “know what to do” without over-complicating their efforts to “live and be”,…

      but we encounter “loss and pain”, inevitably at some point, and do not digest it well,… those who embody a reflexive “tit for tat” response (to induce suffering in others, if suffering themselves), are the most to be pitied for their maladaptive response,…

      thankfully, we are graced with available wisdom from sources that do transcend our “natural sentient” and vulnerable state,… and both through the expressed written concepts and the Spirit that inspires and animates them, we can be lifted to a completely different “reality” and relationship to what surrounds us,…

      considering the various “confrontations and choices” that we might be faced with, does become a continuing opportunity for “discernment” (as in 1st comment),… I mentioned “mystery” as a rather significant experience and possible option,… but not all mysteries are created equal!,… this concept should probably come with a warning sign, as that “counterfeiter-enemy” can easily enough hide himself in smarmy and misleading “mysteries” of his own devising, that may just be traps and roads going in the wrong direction,…

      however God, whether quietly and mysteriously “still and silent”, gives Himself away by His personal and intimate communication of strength and resilience, positive ongoing support, grace and grandeur, wisdom and truth, compassion and love,… “in Him”, “we live and move and have our being”,… what’s not to like?,… (-:

      1. Good point. I think what you are addressing is what we call general revelation and special revelation. What God has revealed and what we can know about God from nature, conscience, etc is general revelation. And then there is special revelation. That is what God has revealed through Jesus Christ and the Bible. We need God’s special revelation to rightly interpret general revelation. God speaking through silence is largely general revelation.

        1. Georgie KETTIG

          “We need God’s special revelation to rightly interpret general revelation.” ~ definitely agree!

          what would you call our own “personal dialogue and interaction” with the “(Jesus)God realm”, once we become more attuned to its relevance and existence?,… prayer, Scripture, and attuned listening (“in the Spirit”) are cultivated (and surrendered) approaches to becoming more closely “partnered” with our trusted and transcendent Creator / Guide / Protector / Teacher / Guardian / Provider-Sustainer / Alpha-Omega / Source of Life / Lover of our Souls / ?,…

    2. Poignant. Some believe, I’m one, that when we dissect things to understand them, we kill them or at least kill the unity or mystery of the thing. We think we know something from its parts but really true knowing is understanding wholeness. I cannot decipher a naked verb without first understanding communication and then placing that verb in a whole context. Even babies understand communication before they gain the individual words to do so. We often get this backward.

      1. Georgie KETTIG

        yes,… “We think we know something from its parts but really true knowing is understanding wholeness.”,…

        the 23rd Psalm comes to mind,… “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,…”

    3. Georgie KETTIG

      Eugene ~ I apologize because I missed seeing the 2 questions that followed the Rahner quote ~ my bad,…

  2. Our friend died of a heart attack (age 44) leaving his wife and eight children without a provider, husband, and father. His eldest had just graduated and celebrated his 18th birthday and was my eldest son’s best friend. I remember bringing food over the day after our friend died, and knowing that my words wouldn’t mean much, I didn’t say much. Later on God reminded me that the father had attended our shepherd group twice and at one of those times,he gave me the dates of his and his wife’s anniversary, their birthdays as well as the birthdays of all of his children. With that information in hand, we were able to make secret deliveries of gifts on their birthdays,Christmas, and Easter. We didn’t say a word.

    Years later, while serving as second-career missionaries overseas, I was having a particularly rough time. I needed a driver’s license issued by the country where we were living in order to continue driving legally. Even though I had been driving for decades, had never been in an accident or received a ticket, I failed the driving test–not once, but twice! I was so embarrassed and so discouraged!

    In my distressed state, I looked out our kitchen window and saw a wren on the windowsill. The Carolina Wren was my favorite bird when we had lived in the states and I had never seen a wren in our new country before that day (nor did I ever see one again). Having that wren light on the window sill spoke volumes to me (without saying a word)–God sees, God cares.

    1. Julia: “We didn’t say a word.” Powerful. You gave secret gifts of love and God did the same with the Carolina Wren. I am beginning to admire wrens more and more. Part of my point in the blog was wondering how much as Job stood and waited, did he see God in the natural order? In other words, was God speaking all along and then he finally put words to his message. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story.

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