1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
I think one of the biggest challenges to the Christian faith is the silence of God. Why does God seem silent in the face of so much suffering?
If my child was screaming for help outside, if she was in danger, I would rush out to intervene. Christians believe we are God’s children, so doesn’t God care about our pain and suffering?
A professor of mine once said that if the problem of evil and suffering does not keep you up at night, then you don’t fully understand it. Yet, it is not as easy as simply rejecting God (though many atheists would argue that it is that easy!). For me, for all the problems of God’s silence, rejecting faith in God brings up its own problems. The same professor also said that if the problem of apparent design in the universe does not keep the skeptic up at night, he doesn’t understand it.
French philosopher Blaise Pascal recognized the problem in his work Pensees:
“This is what I see and what troubles me. I look on all sides, and I see only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing which is not matter of doubt and concern. If I saw nothing there which revealed a Divinity, I would come to a negative conclusion; if I saw everywhere the signs of a Creator, I would remain peacefully in faith. But, seeing too much to deny and too little to be sure, I am in a state to be pitied; wherefore I have a hundred time wished that if a God maintains nature, she should testify to Him unequivocally, and that, if the signs she gives are deceptive, she should suppress them altogether; that she should say everything or nothing, that I might see which cause I ought to follow. Whereas in my present state, ignorant of what I am or of what I ought to do, I know neither my condition nor my duty. My heart inclines wholly to know where is the true good, in order to follow it; nothing would be too dear to me for eternity.”
Like Pascal, I often see too much to deny and not enough to be sure. If you have ever heard of Pascal’s wager, it is important to put it in this context. Pascal argued that, in light of seeing both too much and not enough, it makes sense to wager that God exists as you have less to lose and more to gain. When I hear Pascal’s wager in popular parlance, it is often just thrown out there without this context. The context is important because if you are certain there is no God, then the wager doesn’t work (though I would argue that such certainty is ill-founded and irrational). You have to be at a point where both sides make some sense for the wager to work.
I suppose that’s where I often find myself. I struggle with God’s silence in the face of a world of darkness and suffering. Yet I also struggle with the alternative, the impossibility of getting from what is (in nature) to what ought to be (any sort of morality or meaning). In the face of this, I choose to believe there is an infinite, ground of being and goodness that is active in the world. Further, I sometimes see God’s activity break through and I have faith God is active, bending the universe towards justice and goodness. Or as Martin Luther King Jr said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
What do you do when it seems God’s silence is so deafening?