In my final (and rather delayed) installment on Francis Spufford’s Unapologetic, I’d like to address a rather large elephant in the room for Christianity (at least as I’ve experienced it): When I pray, nothing happens. I remember as a child reading stories in the Bible about someone saying “In the name of Jesus, get up and walk” and the paralyzed person immediately getting up, or of Jesus saying “If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can tell this mountain to move, and it will move”. I would go outside and stare at the wall behind my house and say ‘move’ – not once did the wall move. It left me wondering if my faith was real, if God was real. I’ll admit I am a bit introspective and analytical, but I suspect my experience is not unique, and Spufford confirms it. He writes:
The life of faith has just as many he-doesn’t-exist…moments as the life of disbelief. Probably more of them, if anything, given that we believers tend to return to the subject more often, producing many more opportunities to be disappointed. This is because, for us too, nothing happens when we ask for help. The nothing that happens is universal, an experience shared by believers and unbelievers alike.
So where does this leave me? Is God just a figment of my imagination? Or worse, does he hear and just not care to answer? Spufford offers this thought in response to the perceived silence when we pray:
I’d guess for most of us who do end up believing, the moment when we asked and nothing happened changes in retrospect. It becomes, afterwards, part of the history of how help did after all arrive, though not in the way we were expecting it to.
I think this is the sentiment being expressed in Psalm 13, where the writer asks how long God will hide his face from him (that’s a pretty bold accusation, if we’re being honest). He says he is left to ‘take counsel in his soul’ – which is another way of saying “It feels like I’m just talking to myself here”. But then he looks backward to the past and says “God has been good to me.” He holds those two things together: God, you’re not answering me; and God, you’ve been good to me in the past.
The point is that feeling like God is silent and not answering in the moment is a pretty universal experience, faith or no faith. The difference comes in the interpretation of that silence – is it the silence of one who has been good to me, or the silence of one who is not there? At the risk of over-simplification, I’d like to suggest that Jesus is the hinge-point on which the silence of God turns. If Jesus was the Word become flesh who died and was raised again to give me life, then whatever silence I hear from God in the now cannot undo that word of pure love. I can say with the Psalmist “God, you’re not answering me; you’re silent and I don’t understand why. AND God you’ve been good to me.”
What do you think? Is this too simplistic? Unsatisfying? Do you find you DO get an answer in the moment when you pray?