When We Silence God
The late Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who walked with Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement, writes in his essay, “God Is Not Silent. He has Been Silenced,” that though God is always present, instead of us asking where God is, we ought to consider that God is asking where we are. The fact that there has been an erosion of moral inhibitions, causing horrific events like the slave trade or the Holocaust, or like mass incarceration and mass poverty, means that God has been “expelled” from our day to day lives, in spite of us saying that we love God. God was expelled from the Garden of Eden, Heschel says, though God never left Adam and Eve; they abandoned God. Writes Heschel, “We live in an age when most of us have ceased to be shocked by the increasing breakdown in moral inhibitions. The decay of conscience fills the air with a pungent smell. Good and evil, which were once as distinguishable as day and night, have become a blurred mist. But that mist is man-made. God is not silent. He has been silenced.”
Why in the world would we silence God, whom we declare as the “author and finisher of our lives?” When we push God out, God obliges; he withdraws from us, says Heschel, “leaving us to ourselves.” But we, left to ourselves, act like teens, unwilling to be told anything, rejecting direction, even by God. Some of us assume that God is near, but we minimize the value of that assurance. Heschel says we have “trifiled with the name of God; we have taken ideals in vain, preached and eluded Him, praised and defied him. Now, we reap the fruits of failure.”
God beckons us. Although we put God in exile, God begs to be readmitted into our very spirits. Howard Thurman reminds us that wherever we have been, or wherever we are now, God is there and “has searched and known us.” We do ourselves a great disservice by shutting God out.
I know I have done that. There have been times when I have known I should be lying prostrate, praying to God, and I have chosen not to do it. I can remember feeling, even, a divine pull. Instinctively, I have known it’s been God, beckoning me, telling me to have a conversation with Her and not with my own consciousness or with people who may not act in my best interests. And yet, I have resisted. In the midst of my struggles, I have asked, “God where are you?” but God, it seems, has been working unsuccessfully to connect with me.
I did not know that I have silenced God in my life, that I have exiled God, and God has obliged my desire.
In spite of us and our capacity and tendency to silence God, God remains. God “searches us and knows us,” even if and when we push God to the periphery of our lives. God holds out Her hand to us when we feel weary and burdened, and when we refuse, God withdraws the offer – but God never leaves us. Mystic Howard Thurman, in breaking down Psalm 139, writes as a meditation of the words “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there!”:
When my joy overflows and no words contain it; when the thing I sought was lost, only to reappear within the hollow of my hand; when the day seems interminable but at eventide, the burdens lift and weariness is a far-off memory; when there opens before the vista of the mind the wonder of new regions, far-off places; when the gentle touch of a loved one makes music heard only by the listening heart; when the doctor’s word is the final word and deep within the hidden places of the life healing waters stir, bringing wholeness in their wake; when the wanderer comes home and the wayward finds peace in the ancient fireside, when from the ashes of old dreams the fires of new life are kindled…thou art there!
How absolutely gracious is our God, who stands by and waits for us to invite Her into our souls! How amazing is the love of this God who does not allow our ignorance and lack of gratitude for Her love to turn Her permanently against us or away from us. What must God be wanting to say to us right now, wanting us to hear, in order that our lives may be the better, as well as the society in which we live?
I was stunned by the very idea that we silence God, but the revelation is timely. In these days, where before us there is so much uncertainty due to what is going on in our country, we cannot afford to push God into exile. The chaos swirling around us, which seems destined to cause great destruction throughout the world, begs us to examine our relationship with God, to see if we have silenced God and if we have, to correct that situation immediately. God is near; God’s hand is outreached to grab our own; God’s presence is what we will always need in order to handle the vicissitudes of life.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Amen and amen.