I’ll never forget the firestorm of controversy among many of my well-meaning Christian friends when Garth Brooks released his chart-topping single, “Unanswered Prayers.” “How could he say such a thing?” they asked. “Doesn’t he know there is no such thing as an unanswered prayer? Sometimes God just says, ‘No!’ I can’t believe he’d suggest God just doesn’t answer.”
It’s amazing how sometimes we’re so anxious to correct someone’s theology that we completely miss the point of what he or she is saying. Because the truth of the matter is, “Unanswered Prayers” was not intended to be a theological argument that God doesn’t answer prayers. Instead, the notion of unanswered prayers is reflective of the feelings so many have had at one time or another in life. We’ve asked and nothing’s been given to us. We’ve sought and we’ve found nothing. We’ve knocked and the door hasn’t been opened. It feels as though all we’ve been given by God is the silent treatment. These are the deep-down heart cries of one who feels (or felt) wronged by God.
The unfortunate truth is many of us are just as uncomfortable with cries of protest to God as we are the notion of unanswered prayers. In spite of the fact scripture is full of examples of people protesting what they feel are wrongs committed by God, we find ourselves jumping to God’s defense, as if God needs a defense team of amateur lawyers.
I wonder what might happen if instead of attempting to correct the finer points of another’s theology or jumping to God’s defense, we instead allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and share our own doubts. What if we shocked the world by acknowledging that sometimes all we experience in response to prayer is the silence of God? What if we told them of a man after God’s own heart who felt abandoned by God, or the Word made flesh who felt forsaken by God, or a suffering apostle who felt neglected by God? Could it be that opportunities for argumentation might be transformed into opportunities for spiritual friendship? Could it be that situations with the potential for conflict might be transformed into situations with the potential for conversion? Could it be that chances to correct others might be transformed into chances to love others? Could it be that the greatest opportunities for ministry occur in the face of the experience of the silence of God?
Here’s a video of the song that inspired these reflections: “The Silence of God” by Andrew Peterson.
What experience have you had with the silence of God?