Sometimes silence is more powerful than words. There is as much power in what’s not said as in what is, because silence can mean so many different things.
Silence can be evidence of anger, approval, or apathy—and that’s really the issue. Because one party is silent, you really don’t know which they mean if you’re on the other end of that silence. Does no news mean good news, as the old saying goes? Or does no news mean literally there is no more news? These are the kinds of questions people ask in the absence of words.
Those are precisely the kind of questions people were asking as the Old Testament period came to a close. The Book of Malachi ended not with a note of hope but with a dire warning:
“Remember the instruction of Moses My servant, the statutes and ordinances I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Mal. 6:4-6).
Be warned, says the Lord, and then the gates of heaven seemed to close. Now at first, I’m sure people didn’t think much about it. This had happened before. There were times in their history when the word of the Lord was rare, and there weren’t any prophets in their midst. But the days stretched into months, and the months stretched into years. As the years then stretched into decades, the questions invoked by this divine silence became more and more urgent:
Is God still with us?
Has He finally abandoned us?
What about the promises He has yet to fulfill?
Those are the questions of silence, and maybe you’re familiar with some or all of them. Perhaps it’s felt like in your own life that God has gone dark; you can’t feel His presence and you can’t discern what He’s doing, if anything at all. Doubt begins to creep in as the time of silence stretches on.
But don’t mistake God’s silence for His absence; don’t misunderstand His lack of communication with lack of action, either then or now. Because God was, and is, very busy in the silent time.
Imagine you have gone to a stage play and have been watching the first act. It’s been a great show so far; it’s been filled with intrigue, action, drama, and even some romance. There is a climactic moment that makes you sit on the edge of your seat, and then the curtain falls and the lights go up.
Is the show over? Of course not; it’s intermission.
You know it can’t be over yet; there are still too many unresolved issues. You need to know what’s going to happen and you are craving resolution. So you sit there and stare at that curtain. It doesn’t move. You can’t hear anything from behind the stage. And yet you know that behind that curtain, there is a flurry of activity.
The stage is being reset for Act 2.
The 400-year period between the end of the Old Testament and the start of the new is like this intermission. The curtain has dropped, and the stage is being reset so that then everything was ready, the curtain can come back up again.
That’s the idea Paul had in the Book of Galatians to describe the times when the curtain rises on the New Testament:
“When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
God operates on a different scale of time than we do. Though 400 years might seem like an excruciatingly long time by our scale, it’s only an intermission from the perspective of God. Behind the curtain of silence, God had been very, very active. While generations of men and women lived and died, He was setting the stage of the world for the revelation of the fullness of His story.
In the 400 years since the close of Malachi, the world power had shifted. The Roman Empire had risen to power, and for the first time the whole known world was united under one government. Under that banner, there had been a relative peace that had been established. Known as the Pax Romana, this “Roman peace” meant, among other things, that in the empire, the Roman government could do things that had previously been impossible.
There was, for example, a common language that made communication easier than ever before. There was a system of roads connecting faraway lands that had been previously mysterious in inaccessible. And travel on those roads was, for the first time, protected during this period of relative peace. Though historians might look back and trumpet the wisdom and fortitude of the Roman government, Paul looked at these things through the eyes of faith. Through that lens, the times were just right. Finally.
And this is one of the reasons we can find encouragement during the seasons of silence. It’s because even while silent, God has been busy. We can navigate our way through the seasons of dryness in the confidence that God is always moving, always working, always positioning and always doing so for the good of those who love Him and for His own glory.
Don’t despair in the silence, Christian. Thank God that He is busy.