Since the beginning of the year, my church and I have been reflecting upon what it means to really know God. We have been using Exodus 33:18-20 and 34:6-7 as our guide, and we have found that God’s goodness is an underappreciated yet indispensable aspect of who God is.
As we have explored the pluriformity of God’s goodness, we have found ourselves drawn again and again to two Hebrew words—translated “love” and “faithfulness” by the New International Version. When taken together, these words connote the devotion and fidelity which characterize God’s interactions with His people.
Trusting God in the Silence
Every good story is haunted by a question. It may not ever be articulated by any of the characters in the story. Indeed, they may not even be aware of how it is gnawing at the fabric of their narrative—and of their souls. But the question is there, and the sensitive reader can feel its weight.
The Old Testament is no exception. From first to last, it is shot through with the nervous inquiry, “Will God’s people trust Him?
I have become convinced our own stories are afflicted by that same anguished cry. Will we trust God? More specifically, will we trust that God really is devoted to us? Will we trust that God is committed to keeping His promises—that He will deal with us in accordance with the kindness, mercy, compassion, and grace which are supposed to be the hallmarks of His character?
Obviously, sin and suffering are common obstacles to our faith. But so is silence. Sometimes, we just need a response—any response—from our Maker. We need to hear His voice. We need to see His hands. We need to experience His love.
When Even God’s Anger Is Welcome
Unfortunately, I have had too many of these experiences in my life. But one, in particular, stands out. My wife and I were both mired in what Ruth Haley Barton describes as a “wilderness” experience. And I was absolutely tired of it.
For years, I had been pleading with God for His intervention on our behalf. Not only had God refused to help us, but He had seemingly refused to give me an answer. I just wanted a “yes” or “no,” and all I got in prayer was silence.
So, one day, I gave full vent to my rage. I was not going to leave God’s presence until He gave me an answer. Finally, He did. It was not the answer I wanted, and it was accompanied by subtle but real anger.
Only later would I realize God was trying to protect me in the silence. His answer was “no” all along, but I was not ready emotionally to accept that answer. Still, once my rage subsided, I came to see God’s anger as a gift. At least God cared enough about me to be provoked by my presumptuous challenge (cf. Exodus 34:14, where God accents His jealousy as a part of His character).
The Real Issue
It would take me some time to figure out what the real issue was, and I probably would not have done it if God had not brought some good resources into my life. The truth was I did not trust God. I did not trust that God wants good for me, and I did not trust that God loves me. After all, why should He? I’m nothing but a dirty, rotten sinner—a spoiled brat American who knows nothing about the suffering and sacrifice which characterizes God’s people around the world.
At least, this is what I was telling myself. Sin, suffering, and silence were conspiring to whisper the most deadly lie of all in the ear of my heart.
My experience—and my reaction to it—is not unusual. It is one thing to trust God when the pillar of fire is lighting up the night sky in front of you or when the Incarnate Word is sleeping in the boat next to you. God’s people failed to trust Him even in these advantageous circumstances. How much harder is it to trust Him when we cannot see, hear, or feel Him?
And yet, God knows we cannot really know Him, heal from our brokenness, and overcome our sin until we trust Him. After all, how can we find peace if we genuinely believe the One who gave us life is not worthy of our love and does not desire good for us?