Understanding the Silence of God
By Prof. Dr. Chandrakumar Manickam
Do you have unfulfilled expectations? Is there an unmet need in your life? Perhaps your dreams and visions to have a perfect family, career, or lifestyle have not yet become a reality.
How Long O Lord?
“How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and you will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘violence!’ yet You do not save.” (Habakkuk 1:2)
Habakkuk is questioning the lack of response by God to the violence, adversity and injustice that prevail among his people. He was greatly troubled by the inactivity of God and questions God as to why He was not listening to his cry. It seems to be a common question asked by most of us and also many servants of God in the Bible.
David asked a similar question: “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2)
Job too exclaimed: “I cry out to You for help, but You do not answer me; I stand up, and You turn Your attention against me.” (Job 30:20)
Even the martyred saints in heaven seem to ask the same question:
“… and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10)
How Long O Man?
God is also asking the same question “How long,” to man. It is a two way street. It is most often used by God when He confronts a sinful, disobedient people. For instance, God questions Moses:
“How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my laws?” (Exodus 16:28)
This is also due to the inactivity of man towards God’s expectation. Another instance would be:
“O sons of men, how long will My honour become a reproach? How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception?” (Psalm 4:2)
Why does God Seem to Delay Answering Us?
1. To Test or Build up our Faith
The Canaanite woman kept pressurizing Jesus for an answer. Initially Jesus did not answer a word, but eventually when her faith was tested and established He performed the miracle of healing her daughter. (Matthew 15:21-28)
One of the metaphors that the Bible says about life is that it is a test. God continually tests people’s character, faith, obedience, love, integrity, and loyalty. Character is both developed and revealed by testing.
2. To Test Our Patient Endurance
Job’s life was a test of patience. In fact the Bible says in the book of James, “Remember the patience of Job.”
Trials, suffering and pain can be tests of patience. The Lord has a particular time for fulfilling His plans and purposes. Often His plans take much longer than we expect. In the meantime we go through severe trials and tribulations and there seem to be no visible end. These experiences are tests of our patience. Are we willing to wait for God’s timing? James says:
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Do we trust in God even when we do not understand His ways and working in our lives? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were tested and they proved their faith. They didn’t say that they can’t but won’t serve other gods or worship the golden image that the king had set up (Daniel 3: 16-18). How do you know if you are faithful unless you are tempted to be unfaithful?
Trials can be a test of our endurance. How much are we willing to endure for the Lord? Are we prone to give up easily from following the Lord? Can we endure till the end? The life of Paul is an example of endurance:
Paul says, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)
3. To Test Our Love for the Lord
Trials and temptations can test our love for God. They can reveal whom or what we love most in our lives. They reveal our priorities and desires. The Lord wants us to love Him more than anybody else or anything else. The depth of our love for God is revealed during this testing period. Peter is an example of this test:
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” (John 21:15-17)
Peter was grieved that Jesus asked him this question: “Do you love Me?” three times.
4. To Test Our Humility
Trials can test our humility. The Lord humbles us by allowing us to go through humiliating situations. The Lord wants us to have the mind of Christ who humbled Himself to take the form of a servant and became obedient even to the death of the cross.
Mosses went through times of trial and his humility brought vindication from God. Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses because of the Cushite woman and challenged his leadership. The Lord heard it and defended Moses and that passage says that, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:1-3) Humility is not thinking less of you. It is thinking of you less.
When Naaman met Elisha, his expectations were shattered. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean.” But Naaman was furious and went away and said, “Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.’ Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. (2 Kings 5:10-12)
When Naaman finally humbled himself and dipped in the River Jordan seven times, his skin was healed. The miracle did not come from the river, or even Elisha's words. The miracle came from Naaman's humble trip to the river. This shows that you can definitely experience blessing in surrender, miracle in obedience and provision in submission.
5. To Test Our Obedience and Sacrifice
Trials can be a test of our sacrifice. Are we willing to sacrifice everything for the Lord? Are we holding on to the material things of this world? The Lord leads us to the point of total surrender by leading us through the path of trials. He tests the level of our willingness to sacrifice for Him. Abraham was tested in this way.
Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” And he said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” So, the two of them walked on together. (Genesis 22:7-8)
Trials can be a test of our obedience to God. Are we willing to obey God even when He commands us to do what we do not like or what we wish to avoid? The Lord teaches us obedience by leading us through trails. Jesus is the prime example of obedience.
And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)
“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”(Philippians 2:8)
Look, Observe, be Astonished and Wonder
God employs four imperatives in responding to Habakkuk’s complaint. This answer is not merely for the prophet since these imperative forms are all plural. It is for all the covenant people. The very first thing he commands them to do is ‘look.’ The Lord is simply telling them to open their eyes and see and be aware of what is going on around them.
God then tells them to ‘observe’ or ‘see.’ This imperative is not a mere repetition of His previous command ‘look.’ Rather, according to the Hebrew word (hiphil) it means to give a careful, sustained, and favourable contemplation. In other words, the Lord is telling His people not only to view rightly the world around us, but to think about it as well.
Next, the Lord tells his people to ‘wonder.’ In Hebrew, this verb is reflexive and it portrays a person being dumbfounded or stunned. We see the same word being used in the book of Genesis 43:33 when Joseph’s brothers sit before him and have a great feast in Egypt, and their response is one of ‘amazement.’
Finally, God calls on his people to ‘be astonished.’ Why should the people of God be astonished? God answers this question by exclaiming, ‘I am doing a work in your days.’ Remember that Habakkuk has been questioning whether or not God is working because injustice and violence are rampant in Judah. God is answering the prophet with a definite ‘Yes’! And the Lord’s work is taking place ‘in your days’; it is not that God has only been working in the past, or that He will work in the future, but that He is working now.
The Lord’s answer to the prophet is as true today as it was in Habakkuk’s time. Whether or not we are able to perceive it, the reality is that God is working in marvelous, wondrous ways.
“Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.” (Isaiah 29:14)
Trials, suffering and pain can be tests of patience. The Lord has a particular time for fulfilling His plans and purposes. Often His plans take much longer than we expect. In the meantime we go through severe trials and tribulations and there seem to be no visible end. These experiences are tests of our patience. Are we willing to wait for God’s timing?
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