Silence can be deafening, especially when you are anxiously waiting to hear from someone: a call, an email, a text – anything to provide a bit of hope or assurance that all is well and all will be well. If you have been on the receiving in of a pathology report you know all too well what it feels like to wait in silence while your misery commandeers your imagination.
We have been there with God too: waiting for a word, a nod, or at least a glance to reassure our fears and our anxieties.
As a church we have journeyed alongside Israel in the opening pages of Exodus where God has mostly been passive and silent. Meanwhile we read of kingly insecurities that lead to murderous conclusions. A baby of no particular merit is saved because three women step in and this baby grows up and makes some mistakes and flees the scene in exile and fear. Meanwhile God is nowhere to be found.
So the people of God cry out. It sounds a lot like Job, another character from our Bible whom is remembered as the embodiment of suffering the indignity of God’s silence and apparent absence.
We need to stop right there and linger for a moment or two around the phrase absence of God. It seems disloyal to say it, let alone think it. It has an air of apostasy to it. Yet it is a valid expression in the Hebrew tradition. Listen to this one Psalm to get an idea of a cry of absence:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
And this is certainly not an “Old Testament thing.” We remember dark Gethsemane and the anguished prayer of Jesus asking to have the cup removed. There was also his disturbing cry from the cross that exclaimed God’s forsakenness.
Have those words every spoken for you? Now I realize that most of us enjoy the peace and prosperity of Western civilization and have a comparatively luxurious lifestyle compared to much of the world. We are not wallowing in the poverty of Haiti or in the tyranny of Burma. No, we may not hear texts like these in the same way as oppressed people. It begs of us to ponder who are the voices of those in the world today who cry out from their suffering, injustice, oppression?They fill our prisons and our food banks. They blanket out video screens with images of sickness, hunger, and war. They are the Christians suffering in Iraq; the Buddhists beaten down in Myanmar; the Jews and the Palestinians dodging mortar fire and suicide bombers. They are the poor in Appalachia and in Harrisburg.
Hope is the confession that it doesn’t have to stay that way. Stories like this in the scripture remind us that a theology that is merely passive where one is to politely wait on God and leave it to God is not the only way. Israel cries out and groans and moans…And God hears… “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob….God looked upon … and God took notice …” (Exodus 2:24-25)
These old, old stories are still unfolding today in your life and mine; in the church and beyond. What and who around you needs to be noticed? How will God respond in you, through you, with you and beyond you?
That is our mission because it is God’s mission – The Missio Dei.