February 28, 2014

Lamentations: When God is Silent

By Joe Tremblay *
If God were to stop listening to our prayers, he would be just in doing so; our sins against him would be sufficient to merit such a response. Yet, when he does deign to answer our petitions, his mercy is at work. It is important to remember that his helping hand, which reaches down from the heights of heaven, is not compelled by justice nor is it merited by what we deserve. No. the help we get, which proceeds from his Fatherly love, is totally gratuitous.

But even when our prayers seemed to be ignored, it is for our good. Sometimes we ask for things that are not good for us or if they are good for us, the Lord has something better in mind. The Lord reminds of this truth in the book of Isaiah: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Still, when we experience the silence of God or when we petition the Lord for some favor and it goes unanswered, a kind of desolation sets in. The silence of God can be quite painful because we have come to rely on him the most. Indeed, it can feel as though he is leading us to the brink of despair. All incentives to be thankful, all reasons to hope and all of those circumstances which formerly lent themselves to happiness appear to be suspended…beyond our reach. With this, we become acquainted with what seems to be divine justice; we are getting what we deserve while Divine Mercy seems to be fading away.

If you are experiencing the Lord’s “silence,” you are not alone. In a kind of solidarity with our crucified Lord, nearly all canonized Saints have experienced this kind of anguish of spirit. Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles were forced to become acquainted with it. Indeed, through this holy abandonment their love for God was put to the test. We would find no better illustration of this than in the book of Lamentations:

“I am one who has known affliction under the rod of God’s anger, one whom he has driven and forced to walk in darkness, not in light; with poverty and hardship…He has left me to dwell in dark places like those long dead. He has hemmed me in with no escape, weighed me down with chains; even when I cry for help, he stops my prayer… He has made me eat gravel, trampled me into the dust; My life is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; My enduring hope, I said, has perished before the LORD.”

It is as if the Lord was the accuser and tormentor of this prophet. The complaint about how God is treating the author of Lamentations closely parallels the Phoenician woman who persistently pleaded with Jesus to heal her daughter from a demon. Initially, she was met with what seemed like a rude stiff-arm from our Lord. But she refused to back down. Finally, Jesus rewarded her faith and perseverance. Her daughter was healed.

Yes. God will often “stiff-arm” his closest friends for a period of time so that our love for him may be purified from self-seeking motives. And yes, he may leave us destitute; he may allow us to fail; or he may send us trials so that we do not become spoiled sons or daughters. No doubt, he stirs the waters of our soul so that we will yearn for him and even look forward to a better, more fulfilling life in heaven.

You may have heard the saying: It is darkest before dawn. Forest fires quite often lay everything to waste. After such natural disasters, all color, all beauty, all life seems to disappear. Nothing but ash and death remain. But from this loss comes new life and vegetation. It is as if the forest was purged so that its trees, flowers and plants could grow more abundantly.

The same applies to human suffering. I have heard many accounts of this phenomenon where life in abundance emerges from desolation. In the midst of the crisis or loss, God’s answer presents itself. Peace and joy, even in extreme pain, are mysteriously offered by God for the taking! And a light of heaven and a peaceful hope, once believed to be gone forever, pierces through the darkest of times. The irony is that what appears to be a total loss, what appears to be a total failure and what appears to be the gates of death closing in on us are but the instruments God uses to bring about new life and a new found happiness.

For those chosen souls who suffer a great deal, Christ and his Holy Mother trace out for them a path leading from despair to hope: The author of Lamentations, as bad as it seemed for him, was inspired to recall God’s goodness and mercy. He traveled down this same path:

“But this I will call to mind; therefore I will hope: The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness…It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance… For the Lord does not reject forever; though he brings grief, he takes pity, according to the abundance of his mercy; He does not willingly afflict or bring grief to human beings.”

Silence is the language of God. And in silence we wait for him so that when he speaks we may listen and then act. But we must wait patiently even though the wait can be unbearable at times..

But as long as uncertainty and darkness endures, we have to remember that the Hand that disciplines or permits adversity is the same Hand that heals and builds up again. This is the Mystery of the Cross! When it is accepted for the love of God and even the love of neighbor, then our lamentations will undoubtedly turn into joy. Rest assured that at the appointed time the Lord will clear away the fog. Indeed, the day will come when he will break his silence.

“Good is the LORD to one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him; it is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the LORD.”

Lamentations 3:25-26

Joe Tremblay writes for Sky View, a current event and topic-driven Catholic blog. He was a contributor to The Edmund Burke Institute, and a frequent guest on Relevant Radio’s, The Drew Mariani Show. Joe is also married with five children. The views and opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily reflective of any organizations he works for.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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