When God Does Not Respond

[This is one of the posts telling a story from the life of my Dad. Click here to see the others.]
[This is also part of a sermon I preached on Father's Day 2012. Click here to listen to and/or download the audio.]

After I graduated from high school, I lived other places for 11 years, and when we did move back to my hometown, it was a surprise. So for those years of living away, I really thought that my years of living close to my Mom and Dad were behind us and the thought of that was often very difficult for me. Even if you didn't know him, if you've read any of these other posts about my Dad, you might be able to guess that he never was much for talking on the phone, and since we only got to come home and visit once or twice a year, I really missed being with him.

My Dad was impossible to buy presents for. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there were times when we would open presents on Christmas morning in our living room, he would open his, say thank you, then put his gifts neatly in a stack to the side of his chair. And, literally, you might come back two months later and those presents would still be neatly stacked there by the side of his chair. It was just impossible.

So one year while we were living away, his birthday was coming up, and I didn’t want to go through the gift game with him, so I thought I’d do something different and start writing him letters. My idea was that I would write him a letter each month, and though I didn’t keep that up very long, I did end up writing several to him.

I had come up with this idea a bit ahead of time of his birthday, and even though I knew it was a good idea I was surprised to find myself being pretty resistant to going through with it. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to write to him- these weren’t going to be the first letters I’d ever sent him, but there was something that was different and caused me to keep putting it off.

Finally, I was able to put my finger on what was going on. I was resisting beginning to write him these letters, because the very real fear was in my mind, “What if he doesn’t respond? What if I write this, and put myself out these in this way, and his response is... nothing."

I knew that this wasn’t just a possibility, but that it was almost surely what would happen, and so I had a decision to make. Do I write the letter, take that risk, and see what happens, or do I not write it and play it safe?

Well, I chose to write the letter, and I was exactly right. He never responded.

I didn’t think about this at the time, but looking back on it now, nearly a decade later, I think I can see why I ended up being okay with mailing the letters knowing there was a good chance no response would ever come.

Think of the stories of Jesus on the last night with his disciples. He washed their feet. He took the bread and said, “this is my body, broken for you,” and the cup, and said, “this is my blood, poured out for you.” Then also, Judas has already agreed to betray him, left that meal and went to do so. Jesus, after the meal, went to a garden called Gethsemane.

It’s there in that garden that Jesus said that his soul was troubled to the point of death, where his sweat became like drops of blood, and three times he prayed that anguished prayer, “Abba, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from me,” speaking of the suffering he was about to go through.

We know that story, and are right to kind of have a silenced awe about it, and particularly about Jesus also praying, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

But there’s one thing about the story that I never noticed until recently. Jesus was in his worst moment, pouring out his soul to his father, and none of the gospel writers give any indication that his father responded in any way. He expressed himself to his father in the deepest way possible, and his father’s response was, apparently,... nothing. Then Jesus returned from the garden, went to face his betrayer, and the rest of the events ensued that lead him quickly to his crucifixion.

How could Jesus do that? How could he continue to walk that path, even when his father had just offered no response whatsoever to him?

In my letters to my Dad, I can look back and see now that I could make the decision to write them, knowing there would probably be no response, because of how I had known my Dad’s love in all of the years leading up to the moment that I stamped that letter and put it in the mail. I knew that even if he said nothing in response, he loved me, and I could always trust him. I could put the letter in the mail because of all of the years of riding around in the truck with him, all of the time we spent together watching ballgames, all of the pats on the back when I faced disappointments, all of the times that he told me I’d played good even if I’d just blown the game for my team. I knew he loved me.

The first book we use in our Apprentice groups, The Good and Beautiful God, talks about this with Jesus’ experience in the garden. It says that Jesus could continue to love and trust his father, even in that moment, in his father’s silence while he’d just poured out his soul, because all of his life, he had known his Abba to be loving, reliable, and faithful. His father’s love had been steadfast and unfailing every day of his life, and therefore Jesus was able to continue trusting him, even in those horribly difficult moments when all there was was his father’s silence.

Regardless of what your relationship with your father has been like, there will come a time when you feel the need to pour your soul out to God, and you may choose to do so or not. Even when we make make the brave decision to do so, sometimes God responds, but there always exists the possibility that God will remain completely silent, and if we continue in the life of seeking God, this is almost sure to happen at some point or another.

But the thing that will make a difference in that moment, and which will determine whether you continue to follow, even if a cross awaits you, is whether- in the months and years leading up to that moment- whether you’ve been with God enough to know and trust his love for you.