Thunderous Silence

“So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” (John 11:6)

In John 11, John the Evangelist introduces us to Lazarus of Bethany. Lazarus was gravely ill and was being attended to by Mary and his sister, Martha. A messenger, bearing an urgent message from the sisters, found Jesus and told him, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (v. 3). Can you sense the hurrying tone in his voice here? Lazarus, your beloved friend, is gravely sick! Lazarus, your beloved friend, will soon be dead! Come quickly! Yet in spite of this urgency, Jesus issued a mystifying and seemingly dismissive response back to the sisters whom he loved: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (v. 4).

Then Jesus did something even more absurd: he remained in the place where he was staying for two more days (v. 6)! He goes against every humans’ conventional thinking and wisdom. Jesus did not leave immediately to see Lazarus, but rather left two days later. And by the time he arrived in Bethany, Lazarus was already stone dead for four days and might even have started to rot.

But let’s dwell with Mary and Martha here. What must it be like for Mary and Martha to anxiously wait for Jesus for four days? Did they felt betrayed by their friend? Neglected? Lonely? Perhaps slightly. They might also be hopeful that Lazarus would rebound and be healed at a moment’s notice. But when Lazarus died, their hopes were subsequently extinguished and their world collapsed under the onerous weight of grief and sorrow.

In the moment of their most urgent need, God seemed thunderously silent.

Can we identify with Mary and Martha in our lives too? Although Psalm 37:7 encourages us “to be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” and Psalm 46:10 tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God,” it is difficult to do so when we are shell-shocked by a tragedy. We end up becoming increasingly restless in our silence, discussing and arguing with an imaginary person within ourselves. The world, the flesh, and the devil constantly taunts us in our own consciences, implying that those who speak the loudest and do the most are the best stewards of time. Indeed, sometimes the loudest place in the world is found in the quietest recesses of our soul. But the wise person will recognize the infinite value of silence in one’s spiritual life. That person will know that in the midst of a thunderous silence, God is busy at work preparing the person’s heart and mind to hear his quiet and still voice in fresh and invigorating ways.

Brothers and sisters, if not already, we will experience our Mary and Martha moments in our lives. When God seems thunderously silent in our lives, take heart: God still does hear our deepest prayers and cares for us, and he also continues to speak and work in mysterious ways in the innermost place of our souls. Silence is the perfect prescription for our restless souls, and it is administered directly from our Great Physician. When He seems silent, God is actually busy at work preparing a new meeting place for us to encounter and hear Him in fresh ways.

But God alone chooses when, where, and how he will speak to us. He might choose to speak to us in a clear, booming, and distinct voice just as he did with Moses and the Israelites at Mt. Sinai [1]. He might choose to speak to us in the darkest hour of the night just like he did with Prophet Samuel in the temple when he was a young boy [2]. Just as what he did with Mary and Martha later on in the chapter, he might choose to tenderly speak into the thunderous silence of our souls [3].

Exodus 19.
[2] 1 Samuel 3.
[3] Also consider how God spoke to Prophet Elijah “in a sheer silence,” or with “a low whisper” in 1 Kings 19:11-12.

Nota Bene: This devotional was prepared and delivered on October 15th, 2013 in Dr. Robert Smith Jr.’s Christian Preaching I class based on John 11:1-6, 17. I pray that this has refreshed, strengthened, and blessed your soul and mind. Please feel free to leave a comment below!

2 thoughts on “Thunderous Silence

  1. I appreciate this as I take memorizing Psalm 37 yet once again. “Fret not yourself” is a resounding theme so far and the “Be still and wait patiently” in a fast paced world seems contradictory but a much needed place of rest. Thanks Bruce for your insight from God’s hand on your life.

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