What If God is Not Silent?


I was in my early twenties the first time I ever heard someone speak about God being silent. I took the first of a few classes from the poet Luci Shaw. She was a friend of my mom. Luci had written a book about the death of her late husband, Harold, entitled, God in the Dark. I don’t remember if she shared this poem or if I looked it up later, but it was the first time I ever considered this idea that God is present during suffering.

The Comforting

She said she heard the sound
for the first time
that evening.

They were walking the back-pasture
to the river-edge
not talking, taking in
the half-moon, breathing the
lucid silence, when at their left
a wind seemed to lift and he said
“listen”and “there they are”

And she saw that the wind-source
was wing-sound, that a cloud of ducks
was moving the sky. Without
a cry the pulse of two hundred
feathered wings
shook the whole night.

She knew then
how the Comforter had sounded
the strong breath of his arrival,
the Spirit wing-beat
filling their ears.

And knowing our need of comfort
in a dark, chill night
she folded the sound into words
in a little card
and sent it to us with her love.

In this case, in a time of profound grief, Luci found comfort in a card from a friend that she could receive also as comfort from the Creator.


A decade later I found myself profoundly grateful for Luci’s teaching that compelled me to seek and welcome God’s comfort through prophetic imagination. I was lying in a hospital bed with a pulmonary embolism from the birth of my daughter; she was down the hall fighting for her life with a devastating disease that would change our lives forever. From then on, grief would often be a companion.


I have come to understand that there is perhaps a distinction between God being present and God being silent. We live in a culture that often encourages and rewards cause and effect. Sometimes it feels almost as if the expectations we place on God mimic a slot machine: a prayer request goes in, we pull the lever, and those spinning wheels determine what kind of answer God gives us. All in a matter of moments. And if nothing comes out of the slot machine, we determine that God is silent and has turned His back on us.

In a world in which false narratives are in abundance, it also takes faith to believe that perhaps it is in nature, or as Luci discovered through a card from a friend, God could be speaking to us metaphorically. It is not as tangible as a direct answer to a specific prayer. It is not as comforting, perhaps, because we may doubt or wonder if the voice and its message is reliable and trustworthy. Am I making it up? Am I reaching? Am I projecting the response I want to receive?


I wonder if more often than not our imagination is not big enough. Sometimes the box that we have carefully and cultivatingly put our faith into, may not be big enough. Sometimes the box is too small, too cumbersome, too quick to be discarded when there is no response in a timely fashion.

Perhaps it starts with noticing. Perhaps it starts with building in quiet and a splash of contemplation into our daily lives. I have found in my own life that it is much less about God being silent as it is about me creating space for God to show up. In fact, I have learned to practice the discipline of noticing. For example, I love to go for walks. I live in a place where nature trails are abundant. I often listen to podcasts as I walk. I love to do that and have learned so much through so many diverse voices. Once and a while, however, I find that I need to walk with ears to hear and eyes to see what is happening around me. Then I find God in the crunch of the leaves under my feet, in the majestic sound of a bald eagle, in the feel of the ridges of birch bark on my fingers.

I hear God’s voice and I feel God’s presence in nature profoundly these days as I take time to remember that God breathed life into everything surrounding me and did so for my enjoyment.

After the liberation of the concentration camps during World War II, these words were found inscribed on a cellar wall::

I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
I believe in love
even when I cannot feel it
I believe in God
even when He is silent.

May we use our prophetic imagination to discover God’s presence, even when He is silent.