The Delay and Silence of God

I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but God doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry about most things. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn.

We live in a loud, fast-paced world, one of constantly breaking news. Crisis and urgency always seem to be the order of the day. Instant communication and quick responses are expected, if not demanded.

On the national level, there is little reporting by the media before there is a rush to analyze, comment, and then demand a response and plan of action from public officials.

On a personal level, I seem to irritate people frequently by not responding sufficiently quickly. “I sent you a text, didn’t you get it?” If I don’t respond back to an email within a day, I may get another one with a subject like this: “*** Second Attempt ***.”

In many companies voice mail has been discontinued because it’s “too slow.” Many younger people seldom answer their phones let alone initiate calls. Communication is more commonly accomplished through instant messages, texts, and tweets. This results in a clipped quality to conversations that limits thoughtful discussion.

Yes, we are in a big hurry, but back to my question: Have you noticed that God doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry? God could easily solve everything instantly with a mere snap of His fingers, but he doesn’t—and He has His reasons. Perhaps it is important for us to live some of our questions in order to appreciate their depth. Maybe the problems we want solved are themselves part of a deeper solution that God is working to make us humbler, wiser, and/or stronger.

God’s slow pace can be dismaying as well as puzzling. Why does God allow the wicked to inflict so much damage for so long? Why does He allow error and heresy to go unchecked? Why does He permit sinners to remain uncorrected and unpunished?

The Church, too, is often slow to respond or act. She will go on for decades, even centuries, pondering and reflecting while the world rushes forward into error, darkness, and confusion. We want the Church to turn on a dime, but that’s like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around.

Though at times imponderable, God’s delay is sinless. The Church’s delay, however, may be admixed with sin, sloth, and resistance. This does not mean that all the delay of the Church is sinful. Especially in today’s world of quick, often rash reaction, there is still the need for careful, thoughtful, prayerful deliberation. Our faith doesn’t reduce easily to sound bites. The gospel does not fit on a bumper sticker. The Church should not be reduced to an emergency response unit. The urgent should not eclipse the important.

All of this has been hard for me to learn; I am impatient by nature. I tap my foot incessantly in meetings, thinking, let’s get to work already! I am a bit like the field hand in Matthew’s Gospel (Mat 13:24ff) who wanted to tear out the weeds from amongst the wheat. The Lord cautioned against doing so because it might harm the wheat. He said that they should be allowed to grow together until the harvest; the day of judgment would come in due time.

Rash actions can cause harm, even if unintentionally. Overly quick or draconian measures to eliminate error and sin may hurt the saints and ration the Holy Spirit. Conflicts do have their place. They can serve to sharpen the distinction between the good and the wicked; darkness can permit the light to shine even more gloriously.

But Father, but Father! What about the many souls who are lost and confused in the silence while the Church delays, reflecting and pondering? I have no simple answer except to point back to God. While the Church’s delay may or may not be given today’s expectations, God’s delays and lengthy silences shine before us and challenge our instinct to respond rashly and/or too quickly.

God takes His time. The Jewish people were 400 years in slavery and 40 years in the desert. From then it was 1800 years to the Christ, who spent 30 of His 33 years in seclusion and silence.

Yes, for reasons of His own, God is in no rush. For my part, I must learn this hard lesson and be careful to enter into the silence of God through prayer. Having prayed in that silence I must emerge to teach and preach the faith He has revealed. I can do no more, but I can do no less.

Cardinal Robert Sarah’s words are a fitting conclusion to this difficult lesson for us moderns:

Silence is of capital importance because it enables the Church to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, imitating his thirty silent years of Nazareth … and his intimate dialogue with the Father in the solitude and silence of the desert ….

Light makes no noise. If we want to approach this luminous source, we must assume an attitude of contemplation and silence …. The true nature of the Church is not found in what she does but in what she testifies. Christ asked us to be light. He ordered us not to conquer the world, but to show men the way, the truth and the life.

I know well that God’s silence constantly runs into man’s impatience … [but] nowadays man fosters a kind of compulsive relationship with time. One day we will understand everything. Until then it is necessary to seek without making noise.

Who can understand God? … As with all questions connected with God, there is a stage when the search can go no farther. The only thing to do is to raise our eyes, to stretch out our hands toward God, and to pray in silence while awaiting the dawn … [Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence, pp. 219-221].

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard:  The Delay and Silence of God

5 Replies to “The Delay and Silence of God”

  1. I do not believe in coincidence. Years ago I wanted to finish college and get into counseling. The same day you posted this reading, I graduated with my master’s in Christian Counseling. The importance of this is I have prayed for this since I was in my late 40s. I got my degree at age 68. Why did God wait so long to answer my prayers or reply to me on this issue? He knows when I will be able to best apply myself to His work and those who need the services I will provides. So for anyone who seems to think God doesn’t care or isn’t listening, be careful. You could be putting yourself in a position to remove yourself from His calling in His time.

  2. Dear Msgr Pope,
    I love reading your columns. Had to laugh when I listened to the Youtube of “Hush”…I was an intern in a mental health field, and was helping with the choir. The song was “Hush, Somebody’s Calling My Name”, and a very sweet man who had Schizophrenia, began getting agitated over the verses, and right on beat, after the line “What shall I do”, this man turned to me and said “I’d change my name”.

  3. First, thanks – your reflections always get me thinking. Second, can I say regarding the silence of God, “Yes, but…”? My daughter and I were exchanging info about a podcast she listened to which discussed learning to hear from God. The point was God DOES speak, that He wants to have an intimate relationship with us, that He wants to converse with us. What parent wouldn’t want to spend time talking to their child? Many saints recorded their ongoing conversations with God (St Faustina, St Catherine, St Thomas Aquinas, St Francis, St Joan of Arc, etc., etc.). Are we to think God only talks rarely and only to a very, very select group? Why not the rest of us? I think a key issue – one you’ve raised before – is we need to be properly disposed, to want to listen, to slow down and create the time and space to listen. God is love and mercy and justice. God is love incarnate in Jesus – He came to us to save us. Won’t He come to us to talk to us and guide us? His silence may be the tool to slow us down but I think we shortchange what our relationships could be like if we focus only on the silence and delay. Maybe He is just trying to get our attention? Thanks again for all you do!!

  4. We may sometimes feel that God is moving slowly, but when time runs out we all feel that He has acted very fast indeed.

  5. God has not abolished his great shabbat, if we have. Primarily, by good fear of God, which is faith, men are called for sexual abstinence, and women are called for motherhood. Therefore, secondary, women are also called for sexual abstinence, and some men are also called for marriage. But, tertiary, with original sin, the human being in unbelief has fallen down to fear of Nature like that of the great apes, and so, to men must be said, C.B.A.: Condom, Be faithful, Abstinence, respectively: sin, law, grace. And to women, perhaps: Capitalism, Baby, Ave Maria. “I bless the future.” Amen

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