What to Do When God is Silent

As an enneagram 7, I’m not especially great at dealing with pain. Like most people, I would rather avoid suffering all together. Barring avoidance, my tendency is to try to escape it. I’ll go for a drive for a change of scenery, do something to get my mind off things, read a book or watch a meaningless TV show that doesn’t require me to think, eat—whatever it takes to numb or ignore the pain. The deeper the pain—be it emotional, physical, or relational—the more desperate I feel for escape.

Through mistake and mishap, experience has taught me that running for an escape isn’t the most helpful way of dealing with trials. Ignoring problems only prolongs them.

I’m beginning to understand, too, that decisions made in pain are rarely the best, and trying to fix things myself seldom works.

Without escape or bootstrapping activity to fall back on, I am left with only one recourse: falling before the Father—over and over again.

Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.

—Psalm 88:1–4

It seems that Heman, the author of Psalm 88, understood (or was in the midst of learning) the same lessons God has been teaching me.

How long must he have been suffering when he wrote these verses? If you read the entire song, you can tell he wasn’t dealing with a stubbed toe or a marital spat. His issues—emotional, physical, and relational—were, or at least felt terminal.

He was desperate and had felt that way for a long time. So long, in fact, that he felt like he had nothing left. He was drained—completely empty. (As a Gen Xer, it’s not lost on me that his name was “Heman” and he was a “man who has no strength.”)

He couldn’t escape his pain because he was overwhelmed by it. His circumstances were so extreme and prolonged that he had reached the point in his life where it felt like—without divine intervention—death was the only thing that awaited him.

In response, Heman cried out day and night to the only One who could save. He begged for God to hear him. He bared his soul. And from what I can tell from this passage, the only answer he heard was silence.

Maybe you can relate.

Jesus certainly could. In the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His death, Jesus told His friends, “My soul is very sorrowful, even unto death.”

Jesus called out to the Father, asking for another way, yet submitting to God’s will. Hanging on the cross, Jesus cried out with the pain of feeling forsaken—all for our sake.

But God did not abandon Jesus to the grave. In His silence, while all of creation wept in the darkness of sorrow, God was there working His plan for our salvation.

Think about this:

  • Jesus knew the plan all along, and still, He felt incredible sorrow—even unto death.
  • Being one with God, Jesus must have understood that the silence was part of a bigger plan. But in His humanity, He felt forsaken.
  • Knowing the intense emotional, physical, and relational pain He would endure, Jesus’s recourse was not to escape; it was to fall before the Father and cry out to the One who saves.

When you cry out to God over and over again and hear silence in response, don’t lose heart. God’s silence does not mean you are abandoned or forgotten or forsaken by Him.

Continue to fall before Him. Tell Him exactly how  you feel. Weep if you need to.

There is purpose in the silence—even if it is simply to draw you closer to the One who saves.