From the story of Moses to passages found in the gospels of John and Luke, the Bible is ripe with stories of those claiming to hear the voice of God. Yet today, most of us would be suspicious of anyone who claimed that God had talked to them. We might believe they were lying or mistaken, perhaps even cuckoo. Which got me thinking:
Does God still talk to us? If yes, how do we talk to God?
If you’re like me, you may occasionally feel the presence of God. It’s the suspicion that there’s a powerful essence beyond ourselves, that exists both in us and around us. But the feeling can be fleeting. It’s easy to forget, especially at our lowest points, that God is always with us. Thomas V. Morris, writing in The Hidden God, explains God’s presence this way:
God is omnipresent, pervasive of all reality, and infinite. There are no divine boundaries. What seems to be a total absence of the divine is only an illusion produced by the reality of his all-encompassing presence.
So how do we communicate with this “all-encompassing” presence? First, we would need to know God’s language. And as it turns out, we do. The language is universal because it is not made up of words but is the universal language of the heart. This language cannot be spoken but can be sensed in within us. It is the language of silence.
A Crash Course in the Language of God
In the book Finding God in the Body, Ben Riggs tells us that God is always talking to us, but it is a silent conversation. He goes on to say that we should not mistake this silence for proof of God’s absence. He backs up this idea with the following quote from Father Thomas Keating:
God’s first language is silence. God still speaks, but people do not know how to hear the sound of silence.
Riggs expands on this with an anecdote involving Mother Teresa. She once said that “When I pray, I just listen.” A puzzled reporter queried her about this statement, asking “What does God say, Mother? What do you hear from God?” Mother Teresa’s response: “God says nothing. He just listens.”
But how do we hear the sound of silence?
Toward the beginning of his book The Silence of God, Meditations on Prayer, James B. Carse writes of his initial dismay at discovering that God was silent. This silence did not sit well with the author and for years he looked for proof of God’s existence. In his words:
What I experienced, and experienced repeatedly, is the silence of God. For many years, this was a distressing matter for me. I did not consider it an experience, but the absence of an experience.
Yet, in time, Carse came to see the positive spiritual value of God’s silence. He writes that “in an encounter with divine reality we do not hear a voice but acquire a voice, and the voice we acquire is our own.” In other words, when God speaks, God speaks through us.
There are several passages in The Silence of God that explain this process and I share Carse’s wisdom below. I have lightly edited his words and strung them together in a loose narrative:
- The silence of God is everywhere.
- It is not a silence into which God has disappeared, but a silence in which God is remarkably present.
- God comes to us first as a listener, not a speaker. There is not a conceivable human setting in which God is not present, listening.
- God does not come when you call. God is there, then you call.
- You must move toward God from the heart, then God will respond. God will first wait until you do what it is possible for you to do within yourself, even if that action is exceedingly modest.
- If you speak from the heart, God listens.
- God does not respond to us; we respond to God. God is already silent and does not become silent when we speak.
- To speak from the heart is to ask and to receive at the same time. Whomever you speak to from your heart you receive in your heart. You will have God in your heart—in the very act of asking.
- It is not theology or philosophy, but only your heart that will lead you to God.
To summarize Carse’s beliefs:
- In silence, we sense the presence of God.
- When we sense this presence, we can speak to God.
- God listens.
- God responds through our own voice and actions.
For another take on the silence of God, with wisdom from Ralph Waldo Emerson, see: “You already know how to talk to God. Here’s how to listen.