When God is Silent
It has happened to you before hasn’t it? You found yourself in one of life’s great struggles, and it brought you to your knees in prayer. You poured out your heart to the Lord. You earnestly pleaded with him for relief. Then Nothing. The Lord was silent.
Indeed, you have heard those hope-filled words of Jesus concerning prayer: “Ask anything in my name and I will bring it to pass.” You’ve read the scriptures and learned of various faithful people in the past who by prayer were the recipients of great blessings from above. Bur rather than encourage you, these only serve to make the silence more profound.
Then you wonder: Am I a special case.” “Maybe things are different for me than they are for others.” Or maybe its just a lie. Maybe Christopher Hitchens was right: this whole God thing and prayer thing is just something made up to occupy the time of the foolish masses.
People do tend to do that, to hinge God’s whole existence on weather or not he replies to their prayer in the affirmative, which doesn’t make sense to me. When I was young and lived in the home of my father I would ask him for this or that; there was always a variety of responses that he might have: “yes” “no”, “maybe”, but sometimes he’d just look at me in silence. And I can tell you that Dad did not cease to exist in that moment of silence.
If our own fathers can be silent and yet still exist is it not possible that our Father in heaven can also be silent while existing.
And just as scripture is full of exciting accounts of people receiving blessings through prayer, There are also accounts of people struggling over God’s silence. Psalm 28 David is complaining: “To you I call, O Lord my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the Pit.” Psalm 83, another complaint: “O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God , be not still.” And then there’s Job who proposes a more active response to the silence of God: “If only I knew where to find him; “says he” if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me...”
So you see. There can be times, when God is silent to our prayers, but his silence always has a purpose. The text for this message is the Gospel lesson for today.
In this text, we hear of a Canaanite woman who had a most pressing problem. It was her daughter, who was suffering terribly at the hands of demons. This Mother had spent much of her life taking care of her. When she was hungry, she fed her, when she was injured, she nursed her wounds. She was always able to make it better, but not now. She was powerless against darkness that now overwhelmed her child. And so she came to Jesus crying out “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David”
But Jesus did not answer her a word. He responded to her request with silence. Which is rather shocking. Jesus seems cold, uncaring, unloving. But we know better. This is the same Jesus who wept over sinful Jerusalem; the same Jesus who as he was being nailed on the cross said “father forgive them”; The same Jesus who willingly laid down his life for us. Let us not be so flip floppy on what we think of Jesus. We have absolutely no valid reason to question his love for all people. His willingness to suffer and die on the cross has for all times revealed what was really in his heart. We know his heart and it is pure; full of love for all people. We must take all of this into account as we consider his action or lack thereof when it comes to this woman. Knowing Jesus, as we do, we can only assume that he had a higher and more merciful purpose for his silence. Knowing Jesus, as we do, we can only assume that he has a higher purpose when our prayers are met with silence.
But what is that higher, and more merciful purpose? Let’s find out. The woman was not deterred by his initial silence. She was persistent in our pleading. But her persistence would only lead to an even stronger rejection. Initially he only answered her with silence, but now he was going to answer her with words which seemed unkind.
First he said “I was only sent for the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” And as she kept pleading with him he said “It’s right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs!” Now again, from the outside, Jesus looks insensitive and cruel even. But remember his disciples are with him all during this time. They were all Jews who were accustomed at that time to referring to canaanites as as dogs. It was a common epithet of the time: “Canaanites are dogs, they would say.”
But in this we see the higher and more merciful purpose that I talked about. This woman approached Jesus with a request for help on behalf of her daughter. And couldn’t help but be concerned, as he is for all people, he was also concerned about the woman who was making the request. He was concerned about her faith; about her eternal soul and her relationship with God. He was also concerned about the disciples faith, who were watching this. He was about to broaden them.
You see that’s the way it often is with prayer. When we pray, we get so focused, on the the thing we’re praying for, to us it is the most important thing ever; but this is not always so for the Lord. We may sometimes wish that it were like that. It would be so much simpler for us to just dash off a prayer and get what we want from him and be done with it.
Our relationship with God would be a simple business transaction. He would be the vendor of blessings and we would be the consumers of them. We would offer him prayers and praise, and he would respond by giving us what we want. And at the end of each transaction we would say “have a nice day” and walk out o this store. Kind of impersonal, I think. God wants more than a simple producer/consumer relationship…..He kind of hints at that when his Son repeatedly teaches us to address him as father. Fathers who only deliver checks for child support and send big presents on Christmas seldom appear otherwise are estranged fathers or divorced fathers. God want’s to be at home with us. That’s his ultimate goal to live in fellowship and in constant communications with us. That’s what God wants,
Unfortunately, its not always what we want. The sinful world around us, and our own sinful nature urges us to reject the idea that we even need God. It’s no small coincidence that if people decide to depart from God, they often do it at the same time that they depart from the home of their parents. It’s an authority thing. I don’t need my parents, I don’t need God, I’m in charge of my own life now, thank you very much. But it’s only a dream; a sin-induced dream.
No one grows out of their need for God. So God will sometimes come down and try to snap us out of it. He’ll bring us down to the dogs so that we might begin to see how much we actually need him. Those who are proud and strutting about do not believe they need mercy. Only those who are brought to their knees come to understand that they need it. Before we can be lifted up, we must be humbled.
So what do you do when the Lord humbles you? The woman could have indignant, walked away, with pride and self-esteem intact. But things would have remained exactly as they were. Instead she receives what Jesus says and makes it her confession. "Yes, Gentile dog I may be, but at least the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table. "If the Lord says I am a dog, then I'm a dog." But dogs get the crumbs, and she knows that the crumbs that fall from Jesus' table are rich crumbs of the Bread of Life.
Prayer is not a business transaction, and it’s not like rubbing the genie’s lamp and demanding your three wishes, its engaging God with your heart and your mind and you soul. That’s what this woman did. In reply Jesus said, "O Woman, great is your faith! Be done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed that instant at the Word of Jesus.
Her faith was great on a couple of levels. First, no matter how many times she was rebuffed, she still believed that Jesus could and would help her. And Second, way before the Apostle Paul would come out and say that Salvation in Jesus was also for the gentiles, something he called a great mystery, this woman understood that. In faith she understood that Jesus was even for her! And the disciples who were accustomed to rearing to people like her as dogs would learn that Jesus for this too.
God’s Law actually calls us something far worse than "dogs." It calls us sinners. And all we can say is "Yes, that's what I am, a sinner," but Jesus died for sinners didn’t he. To have faith is to be given to by God. On his terms. Not ours. And in faith you will not only eat the crumbs that fall from his table as little dogs do, but you will have a place reserved for you at God’s table as one of his children and sitting across from us is that Canaanite woman.
When heaven grows silent to your prayers, Do not walk away; do not impugn God’s motives. But rather, humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, and he will lift you up at the proper time. AMEN