Editor’s Note: Second in our series on fundamentalists, is “Charles Henry” a former Southern Baptist minister, who still peppers his writing with bible verses, now using them to question religion, not defend it.
In 1972, Christian philosopher and apologist Francis Schaeffer wrote He Is There and He Is Not Silent, the third in a trilogy of apologetic works. The basic premise is clear from the title: God is present and active in the world with his voice going out through all the earth. This premise can be challenged with a single sentence: Schaeffer had to write a book in order to fill what would otherwise be silence.
Most Christians will acknowledge dealing with doubt at some point or another. Certainly most pastors are familiar with various questions raised about the claims of truth of Christianity. Apologetics has been a staple of Christian ministry for some time now. Perhaps the question most commonly asked is why God fails to answer prayer. We have all heard (and perhaps used) the refrain, “God always answers prayer. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no, and sometimes the answer is not yet.” We pray; God does not answer; and we explain away.
I saw this recently in a tragic series of blog posts. A Christian minister was seeking prayer for his wife during her battle with cancer. A particularly significant medical test was coming and he called for people to pray. He said we must pray boldly and directly, asking for specific needs while trusting that God will do what is right. When the day came, the test did not turnout as they had hoped. This did not deter the minister’s faith. His response: “God answered our prayers by using this time to teach us to trust in him.” But they did not originally pray for faith; they prayed for healing. When healing did not come, some other explanation was provided.
A similar pre-packaged response is provided when a loved one dies. We pray. We pray for healing, for relief, for suffering to end through a miraculous restoration. But, more often than not, the loved one dies. We grieve and offer words of cold comfort: “God answered our prayers. She is truly at peace now, she is fully healed of every infirmity for she is in Heaven.”
These kinds of failed prayers are a particular problem when we consider the words of Jesus. Time and again, Jesus taught his followers about the power of prayer. In John 14, Jesus promised that his departure would turn out to be a good thing: yes, he was leaving them, but they would then receive the Holy Spirit, the unseen presence of God, to dwell within them. Because of the Spirit, “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12, ESV) Jesus healed the sick. He gave sight to the blind. He raised the dead. He rose from the dead. And he promised his followers that they would do even greater things than these. Soon after, in John 14:13-14, he says – twice – that whatever we ask for in his name, he will do for us. He promises power in prayer.
But he is silent. And he is absent. And prayers go unanswered. And hospitals remain full even though Christians today – supposedly bearers of the Holy Spirit – outnumber the population of ancient Rome.
Christian theology is chock full of explanations and ways to explain away God’s silence. Even in the New Testament people were already asking why prayers weren’t being answered, leaving James to assign God’s inaction to sin in their lives: “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2-3, ESV) If God is not answering your prayers, it is your fault. Either you prayed the wrong way or your motives were selfish.
It is my belief that virtually every area of Christian theology spends a significant portion of time explaining away the silence of God. For example:
- We cannot see God. He must be an invisible spirit.
- Who created God? He must be eternal and self-existent.
- Why does the world look like it operates without God? Because he made an orderly creation which was very good and it wouldn’t be very good if it kept falling apart on its own.
- But what about evil in the world? God loves us too much to impose himself on us, so he gives us free will.
- What about natural disasters? Our sin broke the world and brought about these groanings of creation.
Response after response after response argues that God is not silent even though it sure seems like he is.
It should at some point strike us as ludicrous that we even have to debate the existence of an eternal deity. If he is powerful enough to create everything with the word of his mouth, then surely he is powerful enough to reveal himself to all men. Christians believe he has done just that, appealing to passages like Romans 1:18-25 to argue that all people really do know that God exists but suppress what they know because of sin in their lives. In one fell swoop, all doubts are cast aside, all questions are squelched, all legitimate arguments and observations are ignored. You don’t believe in God? You are a sinner with something to hide.
Let me encourage you to consider the silence and the absence. If God were here and not silent, he wouldn’t need books and preachers and theologians and apologists to make him known. The Bible describes the church as the bride of Christ. I don’t need a preacher to prove my wife’s existence. I can see her standing before me; I can touch her; I can hear her voice – and so can all those around me. No books have to be written. She is there, and she is not silent. If I want to prove her existence, I have only to ask for her to step forward, and all can see for themselves. Meanwhile, oceans of ink are spilled alongside gales of words, all seeking to defend the silence of God. Theists cannot place God before you, and let him speak for himself. They must speak his words, write his Scriptures (while claiming the guidance of that invisible Holy Spirit), present his presence – and expect you to take their word for it.
The result? There came a point when I had to set all this aside and draw the only reasonable conclusion: God is not there – thus the silence.
How do you explain God’s Silence?
Bio: “Charles Henry” was licensed and ordained in a Southern Baptist church and went on to serve four churches in three states as youth minister and senior pastor. He recently exited the ministry for a technology position. He is currently enjoying a much bigger world than he previously imagined while living with his wife and their six children. He also blogs at The Book of Wonder – http://www.thebookofwonder.org/
*photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/brent_nashville/3633687212/”>SeeMidTN.com (aka Brent)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>cc</a>