Silence

Silence can be deafening. I think it’s safe to say most people have experienced this. I mean in a literal sense, not some metaphor. A complete absence of auditory stimuli leads to an overwhelming shriek of nothing.

I used to get detention in high school a lot. Not for being a “bad kid”, I never got in trouble in high school, I just was late a lot because I was lazy and undisciplined. And so I spent many days before or after school in a room of silence. It wasn’t always totally silent, you could hear pencils writing on paper, others breathing, passerby in the hallway outside. But there were times when I was the only one in the room. And there was no noise. And I would sit there with a gnawing urge to talk or tap my pencil or anything just to shut the silence up.

Silence can make you go insane. Literally. It’s a punishment for dangerous criminals actually, solitary confinement. Granted you can buck and scream and make all the noise you want in a padded cell but eventually you’ll get tired. And accept it. And sit. And listen. To nothing.

I don’t want to make some cliche comparison of literal silence with spiritual silence. I don’t want to pretend that God is just sometimes silent and you just have to wait and listen for “the still small voice”, whatever the hell that means. My still small voices say things that make my skin crawl. I have thoughts that terrify me and don’t really know of a consistent way to determine which ones are Him, me, or even demons.

God is often silent. Almost exclusively so, if you study history. When we read the bible and the story of God’s people, we tend to lose the passage of time between God’s actions and words. 40 years in the desert is condensed into 40 words in the Bible. 400 years pass between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew. Silence.

He speaks, though not often. Proverbs says that “in an abundance of words, transgression is not lacking.” Sounds kind of like Yoda to me, but the point is clear. The more you babble, the more you err. God doesn’t seem keen on making this mistake. He’s content to let the words He has said continue to be retold and recounted. And I can not stand that.

I want God to answer my prayers, audibly. i want to have an ongoing conversation with Him. I have massive questions. I want answers to the sufferings of the world and my own life. I want to know why He created Satan in the first place. Why he allowed Adam and Eve to eat the apple. Why he has Israel slaughter thousands of people in the Old Testament. And what’s up with two bears killing a bunch of idiots for calling Elisha baldy? (Obviously insulting a prophet is dumb, but it just seems so strange.)

I don’t know if it’s doubt or confusion that drives these questions, probably both. But the hardest part isn’t being confused, it’s feeling like there isn’t an answer to be found. I fear God far too much to doubt His existence, His glory, His power. I don’t doubt His goodness/holiness. But I am frustrated. I’m frustrated that I can’t see things the way He sees them. I’m frustrated because I know that between God and I, only one party has some catching up to do. And I have no idea how to get caught up.

Normally this type of article would end with hope, an answer, some type of advice. That’s why people write these things. Because every idiot with an opinion and a laptop thinks that the world needs to know what they have to say. (I have a desktop computer, so this doesn’t apply to me….right?) But I don’t have a conclusion right now. A silver lining or a happy ending. And that’s okay. John the Baptist ended up with his head on a plate. King Solomon, for all his riches and wisdom, recognized that all he had amounted to moth food and junkyards and lamented this. He also realized that his sons were going to wreck his kingdom after he died, which he was correct on. Charles Spurgeon struggled with depression his whole life and the only cure was his death.

These testimonies don’t really get much air time. It’s not good for business in church ministry. But for every story of things turning out well, (which really does happen, I’m not a total pessimist), there are a hundred stories that involve suffering, beheading, and heartbreak. And through it all, it seems to me one thing stays consistent in the midst of it.

Silence.

It seems God is silent, for now. To be sure, every schmuck with a heart murmur thinks God is telling them exactly what they’re supposed to do and they’re all convinced. But I’ve really begun to doubt my own thoughts. My own intuition. I don’t doubt God, not nearly as much as I doubt myself. Which is of course awful in our culture of self-esteem and gushing positivity. In the words of Louis C.K., renowned theologian (sarcasm), : “Self-love can be good, but self-awareness is more important.” The only consistent thing in my spiritual walk is my inconsistency.

God isn’t presently speaking to me, as far as I can tell. And maybe, just maybe, it’s because He already has. I could put an exhaustive list of scriptures detailing God’s plan for salvation for all people, His steadfast love for those who worship Him, and His wrath towards evil in the world. But I won’t because that isn’t my point. My point is that I could google, copy, and paste everything God has said. And yet still, still I’m unsatisfied because my self-centered heart wants Him to make it about me. To talk to me. To speak directly to me and tell me exactly what to do.

But if God is who He says He is, then He is infinitely wiser than all humanity combined. In a fit of frustration yesterday after talking to the wall for what seemed like hours, I opened my Bible with an irritable faith. It opened to Isaiah 55:8, which states “My thoughts are not your thought, My ways are not your ways.” It infuriated me. That’s why Your silent? Because You are smart and I’m dumb. Cool, that’s helpful God. Appreciate the encouragement.

And after cooling off, it dawned on me. God has sovereignly made Himself accessible to everyone through a book. A book filled with stories and quotes directly from Him. Sweeping statements about reality and life in our world. And yet i neglect this book, because it’s not a book about me. I want it to be, badly, but it’s not. so I ignore it.

The Bible is not about you or me. It’s hard for us to get out of this thinking in our man-centered culture. Every book, sermon, and song seems to center around us. And it’s bred us to be self-seeking in all we do, all the while telling ourselves that we’re following Jesus. And we get frustrated when He doesn’t cater to our whims, because what we’ve been taught is that if we behave and act a certain way, then God will behave and act the way we want Him to. And of course no one says that, but it’s the air we breathe.

The Bible is about God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit reconciling a world full of wicked, self-worshiping fools to themselves. And this fool is tired of yelling at the silence. I’m done waiting for God to speak when I want Him to, when He has already spoken glorious truths I don’t deserve and don’t fully know.

The truth is this:

I’m not in silence.

The Bible is screaming at me, if I’ll only turn to it to listen..

And the more I ignore it, the more deafening the silence becomes.

So I’m going to sit in what feels like silence, for now. And read. And study. And pray. And struggle. And wait. Wait for Him to speak to my heart through His word, which He has already said.

Why? Because, “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

“Why do you call me good?”

 

Luke 18: 18-22

I’m cutting off this well-known interaction Jesus had a little early because I want to hone in on Jesus’s response to the original question. “Why do you call me good?”

 

Think about this for a second. At this point Jesus’ ministry is fully underway and news of his miracles has spread throughout the countryside. The young ruler approaches Jesus knowing these things and realizes Jesus’ righteous nature, at least at some level. When the young ruler addresses Jesus as “good teacher”, it really isn’t done in error right? Jesus was the Son of God! So why does Jesus feel the need to correct him?

Because Jesus was humble.

Which is honestly a little ridiculous when you think on just who Jesus is and what other Scriptures have to say about Him. In Colossians 1 it says that literally “all things hold together” through Jesus and Hebrews 1 echoes this when it says He “holds all things together by the word of His power”. In Revelation, Jesus comes back riding a horse with flames in his eyes and a sword coming out of his mouth, ready to take back the earth for the glory of God (Revelation 19). Surely, of every human that lived, Jesus has a pass when it comes to  humility.

Yet still he corrects the ruler: “Why do you call me good?”

If I’m this ruler, I’d be a bit flustered. “Um.. You’re Jesus. I’ve heard good things. What with the healing and miracles and perfection and all.”

I think Jesus’ remark gives us insight into just how much Jesus humbled himself.

Since we are Christians (a word that literally means “little Christs”), and we are called to imitate Jesus in all ways, I wanted to discuss the humility of Jesus and our own humility. Specifically, I want to look at Jesus humility before God as well as his humility before men.
It’s ironic to me to focus on humility as a topic in and of itself. I find it ironic because of my own understanding of humility which is summed up pretty well in a quote from C.S. Lewis:

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”

So how do we grow in humility, personally, while attempting to “think of ourselves less”? Do you get why it’s kind of a funny idea to try to become better in this area? If I want to get stronger, I can follow a lifting schedule and do certain exercises to achieve that. If I want to be more generous, I can begin to give more resources away. But humility isn’t so much an action as it is a state of being.

Webster’s Dictionary definition goes as follows:

hu·mil·i·ty

a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.

 

I think this is a fair understanding of humility, but I would add something as it relates to our following Christ. I think it’s fair to say that humility, “a modest or low view of one’s own importance”, is born and rooted in an accurate understanding of one’s own importance. Humility represents a certain type of posture we can take as it regards our own significance. But there’s something that lays underneath humility.

Humility is directly correlated with seeing ourselves in light of God the Father and who He is.

 

Discussion:

Why do you think Jesus corrects the young ruler? Is he being nitpicky? Is this a “humble brag”?

It’s fairly reasonable for us to say that Jesus was good. However, Jesus’ assertion was not to establish that he himself was not good, but rather to place the Father in His rightful position as “the Great I Am”. Jesus, the Son, lived out his life in full submission to the Father. We see this all over the place in scripture, but I think the most jarring picture is when Jesus is in Gethsemane, the night before he would be arrested and begin the process of the crucifixion.

Luke 22:39-46

Jesus does not want to suffer as he’s going to. I don’t think we discuss this often enough and it’s a whole other topic, but it’s okay to say to God, “I don’t want to do this.” It’s okay to say suffering is suffering and to express ourselves in pain. I think one of the most damaging things you can do in suffering is “fake it ‘til you make it.” Jesus didn’t see fit to do so.

Anyways, Jesus goes on to say, “not my will, but yours, be done.” So even though the Son does not want to be crucified, he submits himself to the Father’s will knowing the immense suffering he would endure. Jesus, in humility, goes on to begin the bloody process of God’s “reconciling all things to Himself”. Jesus understands his position before the Father and submits himself to God’s authority. Bear in mind, Jesus does so as the perfect “God-man”, not as just a man.

Discussion:

Do you see a connection between Jesus’ humility before God and your own? Any thoughts on your position before a Holy, Infinite, All-Knowing, All-Powerful God? (That’s a loaded question lol)

 

It makes sense that Jesus, the Son, would submit himself to God the Father. But the way Jesus interacts with his fellow men is shocking (or at least it should be). There’s so many examples of Jesus’ humility before men, but the one that I immediately think of is found in John 13.

John 13:1-17

There’s a lot to unpack here and not enough time for us to do it fully, so I just wanted to make a few observations.

  • What would you do if you knew you were going to die within a week?
  • Not to be guilty trippy, but what Jesus does is astonishingly different from what we would tend to say. Jesus, upon realizing his time was short, begins to wash the disciples feet. In this he reflects what I believe is the actual, true heart of humility: It’s not about me.
  • Get over the guilt/shame you might feel right now, (not the point) and think about this for a second. Jesus moves to serve those He’s about to die for. These men are the reason He is going to suffer. He is washing the feet of the men responsible for the nails that are about to be in his hands.
  • Why? Jesus, the living Word of God, the very Son of God, the one who the Bible says “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” was humble enough to say “It’s not about me! It’s about the Father and His Glory! It’s about the enemies of God being made into sons and daughters of God!” Jesus was in no way self-centered but was totally understanding of His place in the Father’s will. And was willing to even serve those he came to save. On what grounds can we treat those around us any different?
  • I love that Simon/Peter argues with Jesus. Like straight up tells him, “It ain’t happening.” Only to eventually ask “why not all of me?!” Just makes me thankful for Jesus’ patience with us in our “it ain’t happening” moments.
  • Jesus goes on to command his disciples (and by extension, us) in verses 12-17. This command is echoed by Paul in Philippians 2:3 when he says to “consider others more significant than yourself.” Jesus lovingly commands us to follow his example in being humble before those around us, especially those who do not deserve it. Our own humility is not rooted in self-confidence or self-esteem; Neither is it rooted in guilt, shame, or self-loathing. Rather it is rooted in the Gospel itself, understanding your position as a redeemed sinner before a Holy God, and realizing that we are not the protagonist in the story. I’m not the point. Pride crumbles underneath the full picture of the gospel.

 

 

“C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.” – Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

 

Closing verse: James 4:4-10

 

There are times in life where you will fall to sin. Oftentimes, we’re so blind we aren’t even aware of it. (Psalm 19:12) But there are times where the Holy Spirit, in the work of sanctification/discipling us, is gracious enough to reveal our sin to us. In these times we may feel swirling emotions and I want you to see 4 things from this text real quick.

 

  1. “But He gives more grace…” Pretty self-explanatory, God never runs out of grace for you.
  2. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Grace is reserved for those who humble themselves.
  3. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” I love this verse, basically it’s godly to despair sometimes. There is nothing wicked or sinful about feeling sadness over your sins and shortcomings. If anything it’s a sign of the gospel at work in you.
  4. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” The real money here. This doesn’t mean God will puff up your ego or self-worth, but rather that the gospel is true and powerful in those who recognize their need for Him so that they no longer despair over their sin, but rejoice in their salvation.

 

My prayer is that we would see the Father for who He is, imitate the Son in how he lived, and that these things would come under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit.