God, Noise, Pain and Silence

Posted: February 17, 2020 in difficulty, pain
Tags: , , , , , ,

I have questions: Does God speak to us through our pain? If so, what does God say to us when we are in pain? Or is pain just noise that keeps us from hearing and understanding God?

The other day I was trying to relax in my living room, I couldn’t. There was the constant roar of gardening equipment right outside my window. I looked out. A landscape company was trimming hedges and groundcover on the bank beside my house.

We live in a noisy world. It can make hard to hear. Is pain noise? Does it keep us from hearing God, truth, ourselves or does it lead us to truth?

The world is full of noise: cars, trains, planes, helicopters, jackhammers, chain saws, car alarms, generators, compressors, lawn mowers, dogs, street sweepers, data centers — noise, racket, din.

Is pain just more noise, a buzz saw in the central nervous system? Perhaps, yes, yes I believe sometimes it is just that. Sometimes it overwhelms my brain, eliciting confused thoughts and useless internal conversations that won’t stop and don’t help.

My wife tried out a new church today. The people who sat behind her never stopped talking, although they stilled a bit during the sermon, they got up for snacks in the back during communion and kept on talking through the Eucharist.

I can hardly be critical. I talk in church, and everywhere else too. I just keep chattering at others, myself, at my past, at God.

Pain can be like the noisy church-mongers. It can disrupt the holy places, in our bodies and minds. But, and this is hard, sometimes I think it does the opposite; it quiets us. Sometimes it may be God’s way to quiet us.

Be still, and know that I am God.”

Psalm 40:10

I’m not quite sure how to put this to you, but perhaps God sometimes wants to say or does says to you and to me and our world, “Shush!”

In the Psalm we are told to be quiet in order to know God. Can pain be a way of quieting us?

I’ve never personally heard an audible “be quiet” from God nor have I — come to think of it — seldom heard a modern person tell me that God told them to shut up, but might God lovingly shush us through pain and difficulty?

In the last eight months I have experienced some severe chronic pain. And while I have talked about my pain to doctors, family, friends and written about it in my blog and while my cri de cœur has been to be healed, the truth is that in these months I’ve never been more quiet in my life.

I must be honest here. At some level of pain I cry. The noise of severe pain overwhelms me, but at other times and at another level, it strikes me agonizingly silent, voiceless. Pain dummies me up. Pain de-noises me. Cut off from social contact by it, and alone in my bed, during many of my pain days, I have become dumb in the face of pain — physical and emotional and spiritual pain. I have experienced the mind numbing silence of suffering.

In these times my prayers become short, “God have mercy” and “Give me wisdom and strength to endure this.“

But lately it’s come to me that perhaps God is saying something through the pain, doing something lovingly morphogenic through the pain. Pain isn’t always a noise that renders a cry. Perhaps sometimes God is saying to me through my pain and by my pain, “I’m rendering you quiet.” This is how the book of Job ended, God talking, Job silent.

There is something directional in silence.

Proverbs 17:28 says that “even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise.”

Is pain rendering me wiser by rendering me quieter? Time will certainly tell; it always does, but perhaps this is what God — in part — is saying to me and doing with me.

If so, how am I quieter, in pain, in a good way?

I notice that in pain I am apt to judge others less. Instead I hurt for those who do wrong or who fail. I want no one to suffer like I have. My suffering causes me to pray for the world, not to judge it. And it is the ones who have done the most wrong who suffer the most and are the most needy of forgiveness and help and prayer.

Pain has also quieted my complaints. My complaint to God concerns what he has allowed in the world and in my life that I don’t want, what I think doesn’t help or enhance me, and so by it I reveal that I have made life about me. I have lived life too much for personal comforts and ego fulfillment. God is silent concerning my complaints and so I can see that in giving such a complaint I indict myself.

And so without answers that I want, savaged by silence, I continue in faith and become more allegiant to him as I exercise faith without reward. It isn’t that this makes me like pain. I hate it! It is dispreferred; often it is unproductive; sometimes it is harmful to me and my relationships. It cuts me off from people, and yet it has its uses.

In pain, and by contrast to it, I find myself silently grateful for small bits of beauty, a ray of sun in my kitchen, a short moment of relief, a goldfinch in my garden, a bon bouche, a loving family.

Finally, in pain I am much less likely to give flippant advice to those in difficulty. In pain I am less of a know-it-all. In pain I listen better. I understand. I don’t plunder others with trite answers.

Orual in C. S. Lewis’s Til We Have Faces, gives her complaint, her issue with the silence and ambivalence and cruelty of the gods. She gets no answer and then dropping her charge she says this: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer.” In this answer there is much mystery and in my answers mystery too.

We each grapple with possible explanations for suffering. We each choose responses. All I am attempting to point out is that there is a quietness that exists within our options — and within God’s.

And so if we depart from noise we come again to silence and perhaps we can let it be that God is God even when he is silent.

Like Job we may then say, “I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer — twice, but I will say no more.”

Job 40:4-5

Comments
  1. mbdifley says:

    My heart is aching for you and all who are in pain. Be it physical or psychological or emotional. My heart aches for my son. I ask why but then I know that is not the right question; I ask what – what are doing, Lord – and then I trust in Him. It is never easy!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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