Words provide a necessary and powerful means by which we communicate with one another and are a crucial aspect of ordinary life. God also communicates to us through His Word. Yet there are times when God seems not to speak, where His Word is silent. The prophet Amos tells the people of Israel, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God, “When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.”(Amos 8:11) This is because the land is full of corruption and injustice due to the sin of the people. The people cry out “Why have we fasted and You do not see?” (Is. 58:3) Although the people seek him by carrying out religious rituals, God does not answer, because their hearts are far from him and their consciences seared into insensitivity by persistent sin. In such a state God’s silence speaks of His judgment.
Yet there is another side to God’s silence to which many faithful followers of Jesus testify. Even Jesus experienced an unimaginable God-forsakenness as He suffered for our sake on the cross. The Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, spoke of a dark night of the soul, when God seems to be completely hidden and absent. Although God’s silence threatens to drive St, John to despair, he calls even this a special grace of God’s mercy, since it forces him to trust God more by realizing his utter dependence on him. We depend on God even in his apparent absence. That is when we need to trust Him the most. We have nowhere else to go. In a paradoxical way God is sometimes closest to us when he seems not to be there. I expect that many of us can testify to this reality. The beautiful Christmas song “Silent Night” reminds us that God’s best work is often done quietly and in the dark, when we are not aware of it or expecting it. When we pray, we need not always bombard God with words, telling Him how we would like Him to arrange the world. We should be quiet and listen. Perhaps we will hear an answer in the silence.