Suffering and Silence

One of the most important distinctions I have come to see regarding suffering is that God’s silence is not evidence of God’s absence. His silence in our suffering may in fact be evidence of us gracious presence. Let me explain by quoting from my book Hope Rising: Finding Hope in a Turbulent World:

“Like Job, we so often ask the “Why?” question. Usually, this is related to personal suffering and the painful realities of life in this fallen world. Most of the book of Job contains his anguish and examines his thoughts as he wrestles with his seemingly unfair suffering. Over and over Job cries out “Why God?” and asks for a hearing. However, God is silent through most of the book, which amplifies Job’s suffering.

Let me briefly note a powerful insight on this point. God’s silence is not the same as God’s absence. God’s silence is evidence of his loving presence. I say that because Job’s friends were a comfort to him initially during the first week when they simply sat with him in silence and entered his suffering and sorrow.

However, when they opened their mouths and began to make various theological cases, they ended up adding to Job’s suffering their words! They would have done better to remain silent and just continue to share in Job’s suffering. Isn’t that so true? In an effort to comfort, we think we have to say something, but usually our platitudes don’t help.

When God finally does speak to Job, he never answers Job’s “Why?” questions. Instead he reveals himself and reminds Job of who he is. God knows that answers usually do not help. Our “Why?” questions are more than questions. They are cries of anguish and longing for relief or hope. Even when Jesus cried out, My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46), he was not really looking for God, the Father, to remind him of the reason he was on the cross. Jesus knew why! And the “answer” would not change his levels of anguish, suffering, and pain.

Likewise, though we may ask “Why?,” we are looking for something more than answers even if we think it is answers we need. We ask “Why?” but God reveals “who” he is. Hope is renewed through being reminded of who God is! Further, hope is not found in trying to figure out the why of our suffering. Rather, hope is found in looking beyond present suffering to God’s promise and purpose in suffering. In his book, Where Is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey writes, “To backward-looking questions of cause, to the ‘Why?’ questions, [Scripture] gives no definitive answer. But it does hold out hope for the future, that even suffering can be transformed or ‘redeemed.’ ” (Philip Yancey. Where Is God When It Hurts. pg84). Our hope is renewed not by looking back at our past or even at our present circumstances. Hope is renewed by looking forward in faith to what God has promised beyond our suffering and despite whatever may have caused our suffering.” (Hope Rising, pg.72,73).

To read more, you can purchase a copy of Hope Rising: Finding Hope in a Turbulent World here.

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