Can I believe in a God who is silent?

Sobbing, I flung myself on the bed, pounding the pillow and screaming at God. “Why did you make me this way?”

It was a gorgeous day and I had gone outside. A few minutes later, I ran into the house with a severe allergic reaction, just like always. Medicine doesn’t help. The allergist claims I have no outdoor allergies. There doesn’t seem to be any hope that things will improve. I sit inside, a virtual prisoner of my own home.

I couldn’t bear to stand at the window and watch my children play in the backyard. It was unfair. Depressing. Senseless. The little joys of life—sunshine, warm days, pushing my child on a swing—were beyond my grasp. “Why, God? Why have you taken away things that make life fun? Isn’t it bad enough that I’m bipolar? Do I have to accept this as my fate in life–watching other people enjoy life while I can’t?”

If this sounds rather melodramatic, maybe it is. I know I’m not nearly as bad off with my illnesses as many other people and I’m grateful for that. My problems sometimes overwhelm me, though.

Recently, David Weiss wrote a magazine article about his struggle with schizophrenia. He recounted a conversation with a psychiatrist that resonated with me:

“Doctor, it has been three years. Will I ever get better?”
He paused for a moment and stared at his notes.
“David, you need to think about what level of better you can live with.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that you need to accept that you will always be this way.” 

The hardest part of my diagnosis as bipolar was accepting that, barring a miracle, I’ll always have this. I’ll always need medication. I’ll always have people stigmatize me; it’s happened before, it will happen again.

As a Christian, this tries my faith. In the middle of depression, pain is the only thing that exists. I can’t see God—hope—the caring people around me—anything other than pain. I still believe in God but he’s invisible, silent, intangible.

Weiss described a conversation with another psychiatrist:

“You believe in God?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
He sat forward, this tall Mexican man. He didn’t meet my eyes, but asked, “Why?”

Why? Why do I still believe in God when he won’t answer my questions? 

I want logical answers to my pain. I want God to work like a mathematical equation. I liked math homework because I knew when it was finished. After I solved X+Y=Z, checked it and found that Z-Y=X, I turned in my paper and expected an A.

X (my pain) + Y (my prayers) = Z (God’s answer)

The equation never works. I throw in square roots or fractions or imaginary numbers, thinking that since God is so complex, I need to try different spiritual methods to grasp the answer. Hasn’t worked. I’m left studying the chalkboard with numbers and symbols scribbled on it, choking from the chalk dust, looking at an equal sign that is never followed by an answer. 

At this point, a good Christian is supposed to say, “I don’t have all the answers, but I know the One who does.” At the risk of being labelled a heretic, I won’t say that. It’s clichéd and unsatisfactory to someone in anguish. 

I want to know the answers to my pain, and I want them now. I want my “Why, God?” questions answered: why I’m bipolar, a friend has chronic pain, another has children with severe medical problems, yet another grieves the loss of a child. Why people I know have suffered through divorce, rape, sexual confusion. Why some never have their hearts’ longing for a husband or child satisfied. Why the broken-hearted are rejected by the seemingly unbroken.

I want answers. I don’t have them. Sometimes it feels like God doesn’t have them, either, as if he’s  in heaven scratching his head, saying, “Huh, I guess that didn’t work.”

When I’m on the other side of depression, I feel ridiculous for thinking this, as if I’ve imagined there isn’t a sun simply because the clouds covered it for a few days. But in the moment, it feels as if the sun is unreal and God is unseen and unheard. 

I once read some words that were scribbled on the barrack walls in a Nazi concentration camp:

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in God, even when he is silent. 

In spite of heaven’s silence, one person found the courage—audacity—to declare her faith in this silent God. Maybe she needed to remember her long-cherished faith, and felt compelled to cry out:

I still believe. I don’t know why. I don’t understand. I don’t feel like you do, either. You don’t make sense. I don’t love you or like you right now. But I’m still hanging onto you. You’re the only thing I have left.

I listen to the silence and still believe, even when God is silent.

If you believe in God, have you ever experienced a time when he was silent?

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23 thoughts on “Can I believe in a God who is silent?

  1. As a person who has experienced depression for most of my life and was told I’d probably need to be on medication forever, I really identified with this post. Yes, I have experienced many times when he was silent. Depression is kind of a black hole that swallows all sound; even if he was screaming, I wouldn’t have heard. And at those times, belief seems folly, no more logical than believing in unicorns or the tooth fairy. I slip into long periods of agnosticism and even atheism.

    I have no idea why I believe most of the time, and it often seems like a farce.

    Reading the second-to-last paragraph of your essay was like looking at a snapshot of my own mind. I’m so glad I found your blog!

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    1. Nina,
      I appreciate your definition of depression. It does seem like a black hole! Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever escape it. Fortunately, I have escaped, though not without some scars and wounds. Thank you for sharing so honestly about your experiences, and I’m glad you found my blog, too. Laura

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  2. God’s silence is the hardest thing to bear if only because it usually comes when we are the most desperate for answers. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with some of my own garbage that I feel like God has put on me for no apparent reason, but I have found that NOT telling my Christian friends about it as I spend time with them is really helpful. Just being around other believers tends to help as long as I don’t tell them what’s wrong and risk the “Consider it pure joy!” speech.

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    1. That’s interesting that you don’t tell your Christian friends. I tend not to tell them, either; I’ve had one too many “consider it joy” speeches and “I’ll pray for you, honey” or “I know exactly how you feel!” comments. The people I will tell are those who I know from experience won’t talk…they’ll do. They’ll actually listen to me (or give me a tissue while I cry) and then pray with me. It makes a huge difference.

      I do wonder why God’s silence seems to coincide with our times of desperation. I’m sure a theologian would give me a profound answer, but that might frustrate me even more!

      Thanks for reading.

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  3. I love when people can be honest about their questions about God and why he’s silent when we need to hear from him most. So many times, in order to appear as a perfect Christian we smile and say God is in control or whatever when we honestly doubt that. I love that other people admit they hold back so they don’t have to hear the empty platitudes, even if delivered with the best intentions. Is it lack of empathy or a deficiency in our language?

    I was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia 2 years ago. The $200 a day pill I take is very effective at keeping it at bay and in remission. I wondered why and still do. It could very well be a life-long affliction and sometimes I worry about what will happen when I don’t have my great insurance that lets me pay only $50 a month for my lifesaver.

    I’ve learned 3 things: It could be worse. 2. Most things I’ve worried about never happen and 3. The biggest. God loves me. That used to be head knowledge; now it’s in my heart. I’m His Daughter. I’m a princess in His house. He brought me to the right people at the right time so I could experience that. It keeps me going, even when I don’t feel like believing.

    Thanks for sharing, everyone.

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    1. Wow, a $200 a day pill. I’ve never taken medication that expensive before. I’m sorry you’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, Theresa, and that the insurance won’t pay more for your medication. I’m thankful for your positive attitude, and that you shared what you’ve learned through this.

      I’ve wondered the same thing you have: why do people utter those empty platitudes to people in pain? It may be the problem we all have with finding the right words to say to comfort someone (and so we fall back on cliched phrases) or lack of empathy from a lack of brokenness (or a perception that “I’m such a good person that I’ll never end up where they are”). Either way, I think Christians as a whole need to work on developing a new vocabulary that’s not “churchy” or cliched, and learn to mourn with those who mourn (and, of course, rejoice with those who rejoice!)

      I try to be open (within reason) about my struggles because I realized that I could never get the help I needed if I wasn’t honest about my needs. If that makes other people uncomfortable, so be it. I try to be careful how open I am, varying the degree of transparency with the degree of trust I have for the other person.

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  4. I do believe God(s) signed a non-intervention pact… they shall not intervene in our doings… and honestly, there is war in Libya… if Deux ex Machina does not strike there (one well aimed lighting bolt should not be a problem for deity, should it), why would they care about few troubled people?
    So I do cling to my faith/spirituality (the made-in-India kind). But I don’t expect Gods talk back to me…

    and…

    “The hardest part of my diagnosis as bipolar was accepting that, barring a miracle, I’ll always have this. I’ll always need medication. I’ll always have people stigmatize me; it’s happened before, it will happen again.”

    Medical professionals be damned for spreading this BS. Look, I believe it’s possible to do the non-medication route (I am doing it and I live quite well, working on my degree and living through my ups and downs…). One needs to set themselves free. Forget about chasing “happy” (hedonism will not save your soul) and “normal” (my motto is “young and crazy in a world where *normal* and decent people construct atomic bombs”). Follow your heart. Not your momentary thoughts, your heart. Finding a sense in the life and a purpose. Reconnecting with the humanity.

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    1. For me, the medication helps tremendously. I’ve known a few people who go the non-medication route, and if it works for them and they’re stable (as you seem to be), then that’s great. From my experience, that’s not going to work for me; most of the time I’m fine with this. God hasn’t always been silent for me; there have been times during my bipolar ups-and-downs when I know that he does care for me, and I cling to my faith during the times of silence and desperation.

      Your motto is really interesting. young and crazy in a world where *normal* and decent people construct atomic bombs So many times people fear mental illness because they deem the mentally ill as “dangerous”. That’s really unfair. There are plenty of “normal” people who hurt others, whether that’s through war or abuse or other violence, and there are plenty of ill people who would never dream of harming another person.

      Thanks so much for stopping by the blog and sharing. I appreciate different perspectives on these subjects, and I welcome your thoughts.

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  5. Laura, it may seem that God is silent sometimes, but He is always there for you. As somebody with schizoaffective disorder and a witness to a lot of death and dying, most of them younger than me, I feel a lot of pain too, but in that pain I do feel God’s love. I’m actually thankful that I have my illness or I would have never found Him. Sometimes He does not give answers right away because we are not ready for them.

    We were never guaranteed an easy life. We are only guaranteed God’s love. Don’t get me wrong, I know how you feel, but we’ve got to be patient. Eventually God will reveal to us what we need to know.

    I hope I’m not being too contrarian… but I did have to say something.

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    1. Thank you, Elina. Sometimes I feel God’s love in the darkness and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I know and feel there is a reason for my problems; other times, I know there’s a reason, but I don’t feel that the reason is “good enough” to warrant the pain. Most of the time when I get to the point I was describing in the post, a whole bunch of things have converged and overwhelmed me: lack of sleep & meaningful human contact, the allergy woes, the depression and irritability, the hormones…and it adds up, like it did this particular day. That’s when I reach the point that God seems silent and I don’t want to wait patiently for answers anymore. Patience is a hard virtue to learn.

      I love this: We were never guaranteed an easy life. We are only guaranteed God’s love. It’s so true and I forget this so often. Thank you for reminding me!

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      1. Ayiesha Woods, a christian singer pointed out that if every day were a joyous day, we wouldn’t need God or Jesus. I have to remind myself that during my low points. Another thing to think about is that every human has joys, sorrows and challenges. Some mask their pain better than others but that does not take away that fact. There’s another singer… I think it’s Joy Williams (?) has a song called “We” which illustrates this beautifully.

        In other words, you’re not alone. God may seem far away at times but that’s an illusion. Try not to feel discouraged… trust in God to get you through the rough times. Great post by the way, well written and candid.

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      2. Oh, I know who both Ayiesha and Joy are! And yeah, it’s Joy who sings “We”. I haven’t heard that song in a long, long time. Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone!

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  6. Speaking of not being alone–have you read Alise Wright’s blog? She has a “Not Alone” series of shared depression stories; in fact, there’s currently a call for submissions. The series is to be published by Civitas Press.

    Of all the things that helped me in my depression, it was knowing that, despite how I felt, I was not alone. I have a wife who loves me too much to let me sink, leave me as I was. That, and some time in Celebrate Recovery, were instrumental for me. I realize everyone’s different.

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    1. I saw the call for submissions and I plan to submit something. I haven’t read Alise’s blog yet, but I will; I need to get a feel for what they want.

      For me, having a husband that’s stuck by me through the ups-and-downs of mental illness has been wonderful. He’s put up with a lot from me and yet has been instrumental in getting me professional help, as well as being all around supportive. Sounds like your wife is the same way. It’s such a great thing to have family support. I’ve talked to far too many people who have families that don’t understand, blame them, or refuse to address the issues, none of which is helpful.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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      1. Well, then it seems you’re doing better than some. I do not have cancer or a chronic disease as some do and I won’t try to compare my problems to theirs. However, I have been abused and raped by my parents and others and I have had severe depression since I was sick. I prayed ever day. I wrote gratitude journals. I volunteered. I tried to help others despite the pain I felt from my own situation. As a result, not once was a prayer answered. Not once did anyone reach out to help me – even when I was a small child and they knew what was going on. The only men that ever came into my life were abusive. It sounds that despite the issues you are facing, God has deemed you worthy of having his love and support as well as the love and support of husband and/or family. God clearly doesn’t favor everyone this way. Some people can pray until they’re blue in the face, beg and do everything they can for their fellow man to prove themselves worthy – and its still as effective as talking to a wall. In a small sense you can take comfort in being one of the lucky ones.

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      2. Oh, Nikki-

        I’m so sorry for all that you’ve been through. I have no idea what it is like to be abused or raped, much less by parents who are supposed to cherish and protect their children. And it angers me to know that others knew what was happening and did nothing to help you.

        I really want to reply in more detail–you’ve raised some important questions about God, and I want to do justice to the subject. But I’m mentally exhausted right now, so I will think about this overnight and get back to you tomorrow. I’m sorry I didn’t see your comment before now; for some reason, this comment didn’t end up in my email inbox like it was supposed to. For now, please know that I care about your hurt and struggles. Laura

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      3. Okay, it took me several days to think about this. It’s a heavy burden that you’re carrying, Nikki. I wish I could sit down and talk with you in person, but since I can’t, here’s the best thoughts I can come up with. They’re concepts that I’ve wrestled with and still wrestle with.

        There’s nothing either of us can do to make God love us more or less. So all the good stuff you and I have done–and you’ve done some great stuff–won’t do a thing to earn God’s love because His love can’t be earned. I spent years trying to be perfect, thinking that if I just prayed hard enough, helped others enough, etc., that God would love me more; when I failed at doing these things, I thought God didn’t love me like he loved Little-Miss-Perfect-Christian sitting down the pew from me. I thought that’s why I didn’t “feel” him. It was a pretty big deal for me to realize that I didn’t have to prove myself worthy of his love. He always loved me, no matter what. And I believe that he loves you, too, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

        Honestly, on the matter of God not answering your prayers and remaining silent, I don’t have an easy answer. I don’t really have an answer at all. I know there were people in the Bible who wrestled with silence from God (Job, David, Jeremiah, and others) but that’s not much of a consolation when I’m severely depressed. All of them could probably identify with your feeling that it’s as effective as talking to a wall. I know I can.

        One thing that’s helped me during those times of silence is staying close to people who aren’t hearing God’s silence at that time. (They’ll go through it too, and I can be there for them.) I’m fortunate to go to a healthy church and have friends to encourage me, both in real life and online. I don’t know if you have anything like that at all, but I would encourage you to try to find those people who will love you unconditionally. They are out there.

        Hang in there.

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  7. Hi,

    As per my experience with God i would like o say that God allows only certain level of hardship which a person can bear to make them strong and wise than ever befor, as the stone or gem which is required to be fitted right in front of kings crown needs the most chiseling , grinding and polishing to best fit as its going to be at the best part of the crown, similarly people who come across more struggle inspite of being always true and loyal, just remember your are going to be put at the best part in God’s crown

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I myself have asked the very same questions you have asked. Lately I to have been suffering from depression and it seems like when I’m at my darkest hour God is so very silent. I do not understand this, which at times causes me to doubt his existence. I also read Abhinav’s post which states that God only allows certain level of hardship which a person can bear in order to make us strong. I do believe this however I just wish he would somehow communicate during those dark times. I encourage you to continue to be strong and keep the faith…Again thank you for sharing ..

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    1. I’m really sorry you’ve been suffering from depression recently, Ophelia. I know firsthand how difficult it is, especially when it seems like God is silent. Thank you for sharing your story, too.

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  9. The silence of God has pushed me passed my own coping mechanisms. After feeling utterly abandoned by a silent God I became so angry with God to the point of hating Him. I told Him openly as my heart closed against Him. For years I have suffered intolerable anxiety. For years I have pursued God relentlessly. For every break down, I remained utterly faithful to God. Despite living with this angst I still chose to serve and love God. However, my most recent break down was a traumatic experience. My anxiety became chronic and I suffered severe sleep deprivation for weeks. During that time I cried out for mercy, night after night. I surrounded myself with scripture verses about sleep, rest and peace. My husband and I would sing to God in the early hours of the morning and many Christians were praying and fasting for my wellbeing. After a lot of medical intervention, it took me months to recover. I believe in God but my pain is too raw to rebuild a relationship with Him. I cannot fathom how God does not intervene at a point of crisis when His children cry out to Him. Having loved God all my life, I feel now I’m walking on very shaky ground because my whole Christian world view has altered. A loving relationship with a Father in Heaven should be built on love, the greatest commandment. But sitting in a vaccuum of silence brings very little joy. I too wonder where is God in the silence.

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    1. Natalie,
      I’m really sorry that you went through such a horrible experience. I know there’s nothing I can say that will take away the pain that you feel. Thank you for sharing so honestly and openly; that takes much courage.

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