God speaks through an ocean view

When Does God Ever Give Us the Cold Shoulder or Silent Treatment?

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True silence is rare. Gordon Hempton claims there are only twelve silent places left in the United States. Hempton is a renowned acoustic ecologist and founder of the One Square Inch of Silence Foundation who has recorded natural sounds all over the world. He defines silence as the lack of noise not sound. In my experience, there is a silence that also is defined by lack of sound. God’s silence. When we cannot hear God’s voice. This silence usually comes when we are suffering and feel we need God to answer our questions and speak to us. Does God ever give us the cold shoulder or silent treatment? 

Closed door of church. Are God's ears closed to our questions?

To Many God’s Silence Speaks God’s Displeasure

Many of us fear silence, especially God’s. We believe it communicates God’s displeasure. This is rarely the case, however. In my reading of Scripture, God is plenty vocal when angry. Even Jesus was vocal with those he was angry with. “Oh you of little faith,” he said when frustrated with the disciples. “You brood of vipers,” he said to the religious leaders. Never did he give anyone the silent cold shoulder. 

Oh, that we would be so lucky as to endure God’s silence at our sin.

The truth is that in our guilt and shame, we may feel we deserve silence. But God’s great love and powerful mercy speak to us even in our darkest times.

To Many God’s Silence Speaks Distance

At other times we lament God’s silence as distance. There’s that old saying, “If you don’t feel God’s presence, guess who has moved.” That may be the case. We may turn our backs to God. But it’s simplistic. God is omnipresent. The story of Jonah testifies to the truth we cannot move away from God. 

Jesus expresses a feeling of abandonment while on the cross. But Jesus feeling forsakenness does not mean God turned away from him. There’s a strange and unbiblical idea that God cannot be in the presence of sin. But God’s omnipresence speaks against this. The greatest example of God’s silence not signaling displeasure or distance is God’s profound, loving, and difficult question of Adam and Eve. “Where are you?” 

God stood in the presence of Abraham, David, and the disciples. We cannot chase God from us. Rather God pursues us as poet Francis Thomas writes in his poem “The Hound of Heaven,” 

“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears 

I hid from Him, and under running laughter. . . .”

Rather Thomas hastened

“From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,

And unperturbèd pace,  

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat—and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet—

All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’”

Thomas was found by the Hound of Heaven. So are you and I.

Silent Spider Web

What Then When God is Silent?

Does God ever give us the cold shoulder or silent treatment? Not in the way we think of it.

Of course, we need and expect God to speak when we are troubled. In Psalm 83 Asaph cries out, “O God, do not remain silent; do not turn a deaf ear, do not stand aloof, O God.” 

After all, God is vocal. God spoke creation into being. Jesus is the Word. The Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts. Why God would you sit silent while we suffer? 

In my blog How To Hold A Two-Way Conversation With A Silent God I suggest God is not always silent but rather we have not practiced active listening. Sometimes we need to stop and listen.

But even when we are actively listening, God’s silence sometimes rings out. What of when God is silent, not speaking through sermon, Scripture, song, or Spirit? When our questions hang like mist on a frozen day? When our tears overflow God’s jar? What then?

I’ve always been a private healer. I remember during one of my too many hospital visits years ago a friend came to visit. I was glad for the company. But then they filled the hour-plus visit with constant conversation. I was drugged and in pain. I didn’t need conversation; I needed presence. Silent presence. God’s silence is not a cold shoulder.

For me and many others I know, presence in pain and illness is more powerful and poignant in silence. In silence you know the person with you is not uncomfortable with your predicament. You believe they merely want to be with you not fix you or cover their discomfort with many words. 

It took me too long to learn this in early pastoral ministry. I filled too many good people with too many questionable words.

God Speaks in Creation

God’s Silence Speaks Presence

God has had no such problem. God’s silence is not silence or a treatment. God is ultimately comfortable being silently Present with us in our suffering. God knows presence, silent presence is healing and a mercy. God knows his Presence is the answer to our suffering.

Last summer, at the height of long COVID, I would take my coffee and journal and sit on the back porch. The silence was not lonely or discouraging. Not always but many mornings I felt God’s powerful presence. In God’s presence, I was not told everything would be okay or that I would be healed but rather that I would be accompanied in my fight for health. I felt the same in the Redheaded-Wildflower’s loving presence. 

Often my haunting questions were answered in that silence. Why, God? I cried. God rather than try to explain things well beyond my emotional and intellectual powers, merely sat with me, love emanating through the birdsong, breeze, and colors of creation. God did not answer my question because God was the answer. The Spirit spoke beyond words.

I rested in God’s presence. God rested with me.

Silence is that way. A place to rest with God. 

6 thoughts on “When Does God Ever Give Us the Cold Shoulder or Silent Treatment?”

  1. Georgie Ann Kettig

    “I rested in God’s presence. God rested with me.

    Silence is that way. A place to rest with God.”

    yes ~ and it’s interesting that we may sense “a wordless fullness” at such times, with the felt personal graces of comfort and hope, and even love,… and/or we may sense a wonder of transcendence that touches us with awe, as we feel a connection to a vast “reality” (time and space-wise), of which we are a tiny, but not insignificant, meaningful and integrated part,… (-:

    1. Transcendence is the perfect word. That space between the ground and the stars that our spirits reach into but bodies cannot reach. Good to hear from you.

      1. Georgie Ann Kettig

        Happy to hear from you, as well!,… I did think of you this morning, and it happened shortly before seeing your email,… “connections” ~ God is at work,… (-:

  2. Eugene – I knew you would soon post something that would leave me searching for words again that would give an adequate response to what your have written. There is a depth to your writing that makes me feel as though I could not respond as I wished unless you were actually present. And if you were present no words would need to be spoken between either of us to understand what you have said and how I have perceived it.
    Best Regards,
    Terry

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