When God is silent (@TheAlethiophile)


Written in the years following the destruction of Jerusalem, Lamentations is often paired with Jeremiah as a before and after. It is a series of poems, though there is an uneven rhythm in the Hebrew which is intended to reflect a limping motion, as of a nation and people who have been deeply wounded.

Instead of comparing to Jeremiah, though, let us compare instead to Job. Both tell stories of immense despair, one personal, the other corporate. The contrast though, comes with the voice of God. In Job, words are put into God’s mouth, putting Job in his place, his complaints into a cosmic context. But in Lamentations God is never said to speak. The writer makes impassioned pleas but they are never answered.

So it often happens in our prayer lives, when intercessions seem to fall on deaf ears. It can be a faith-shattering experience. What then? Well, in the middle of the book we find an extraordinary statement of hope which has given rise to several songs of worship, both ancient and modern:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

This is balanced against the shocking theodicy of the book whereby, as a consequence of the affirmation of God’s omnipotence, we get a litany of statements to the effect that it was God who destroyed Jerusalem:

“…the Lord handed me over to those I cannot withstand.” (1:14)

“The Lord has rejected all my warriors in the midst of me…” (1:15)

“How the Lord in his anger has humiliated daughter Zion!” (2:1)

“The Lord has destroyed without mercy…” (2:2)

“The Lord determined to lay in ruins the wall of daughter Zion…” (2:8)

“The Lord has done was he purposed…he has demolished without pity…” (2:17)

These are angry prayers, loaded with accusations, yet like Job, not containing any prosecution of wrongdoing. For the writer also says “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word.” (1:18)

Both Job and the writer of Lamentations suffered terribly, with them having lost almost everything they knew that would have given them their cultural and social identity. At such times, these anguished, angry prayers are a natural response. One may think of national disasters such as the Boxing Day tsunami, whose 10th anniversary has recently been marked, or any number of personal tragedies and struggles that many face daily in solitude, silence or in secret. Though we may not see the full picture, we cling to God in faithful hope.

For a number of examples of such instances, please see the “God and suffering” series on Tanya Marlow’s blog, Thorns and Gold. Or for more on the subject of God’s silence in response to prayers, I recommend Pete Greig’s book, God on Mute.

About TheAlethiophile

The Alethiophile is a blogger, bibliophile and accountant. Constantly looking for truth, he is quite often wrong. Having grown up in an evangelical baptist church in Bedfordshire, he is currently part of an Ichthus church in London. He is also fond of wearing stripey socks.