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The Problem of the Problem of Silence III
September 17, 2013 D.J. Clark

The Problem of the Problem of Silence III

Posted in Forum Post

In my last two posts we have been looking at the so-called Problem of Silence. In the first post, I suggested that this Problem presented a genuine “problem” for Christians — not necessarily a reason to reject their faith, but at least something that should reasonably cause doubt, trouble, and struggle. In the second post, I attempted to motivate, in turn, the premises of a formalized version of the argument:

  1. If there exists a loving, fatherly God, then he would pursue communion with his human creatures.

  2. If a loving, fatherly God were to pursue communion with his human creatures, then he would make himself present or at least available to his human creatures (or at least those who do not oppose finding him and/or who earnestly seek him).

  3. But God is not thus present or available to (all or most of) his human creatures; plenty of us who don’t oppose finding God and/or who earnestly seek him do not, in fact, find him.

  4. Thus, there does not exist a loving, fatherly God.

In this third post I want to consider some of the most common objections to this argument. First, an objection which goes after premise (3). Often drawing inspiration from (a particular interpretation of) the apostle Paul in the first chapter of Romans, there are some who claim, contra premise (3), that God really is present or available to all or most of his human creatures:

 

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

 

On a common interpretation of this passage, it is said that God is clearly visible in at least a derivative sort of way: we can see the artwork of the artist when we look at certain aspects of his creation. These brushstrokes are breadcrumbs, carrying all of us – if only we will not refrain from following – to an awareness that God is indeed there. Other objections to premise (3) have pointed to other mediums of the presence/availability of God. By way of example, two commonly touted mediums: (a) God can be clearly seen to those who enter into, in an honest, humble, and prayerful way, the Biblical text; (b) God can be clearly seen to those who enter into, in an honest, humble, and prayerful way, a participation in the Sacraments. Whatever the medium, the objection to premise (3) runs much the same way: God really is available to all or most of us; what keeps some from finding or experiencing him, then, can only be some sort of resistance or abnormality.

This objection will not set at ease (on its own) the reflective Christian (or Jew or Muslim). For the Christian will notice that the experience of the silence or hiddenness or inaccessibility of God is not unique to the resistant or abnormal. Many of those who profess to not being able to find God are the faithful and devout themselves — those whose eyes are always open to the breadcrumbs of creation, and who regularly dive into the Bible and the Sacraments with an honest, humble, and prayerful heart. By way of a concrete example, consider these heart-wrenching words of Mother Teresa (one who was faithful and devoted if anyone was):

 

“Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The child of your love—and now become as the most hated one—the one You have thrown away as unwanted, unloved. I call, I cling, I want—and there is no One to answer—no One on Whom I can cling—no, No One.—Alone. The darkness is so dark…The loneliness of the heart that wants love is unbearable.—Where is my faith?—even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness.—My God—how painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing… I am told God loves me—and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. … The whole time smiling—Sisters & people pass such remarks.—They think my faith, trust & love are filling my very being & that the intimacy with God and union to His will must be absorbing my heart.—Could they but know—and how my cheerfulness is the cloak by which I cover the emptiness & misery.—What are You doing My God to one so small?”

 

Many Christians can attest to this sort of divine silence. And I do not mean to suggest at all that this silence offers us a reason to reject or doubt the existence of God in itself: all – ALL – I am saying is that one cannot be so quick as to dismiss premise (3) of the above argument on the basis that God is present and available if only we will not resist him. There are plenty who do not resist who do not find.

I’ll mention and discuss a few other prominent objections later tonight or tomorrow; gotta run for now.

Comments (8)

  1. Wtspa
    Wtspa 4 years ago

    ///I am saying is that one cannot be so quick as to dismiss premise (3) of the above argument on the basis that God is present and available if only we will not resist him.///

    Your argument, when I provided scripure, was that those people who don’t find the bible compelling would only ask how I know the bible is true. The people who submit their lives to Christ don’t have this problem. The bible is compelling to them and is sufficent in knowing that God uses all things for the good of those who are called according to his purpose. We have accounts of how God is always available and in control of every moment.

    ///There are plenty who do not resist who do not find.///

    I disagree. Jesus said all who come to me I will in no wise cast out. The problem is people’s sin and refusal to submit to Christ who claims to be the way the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father but by him.

    When you search for answers to these questions outside of God’s word, you’re only left with posts full of skepticism. I can see you’re not a skeptic of your skepticism, because you think your investigation of this “dilemma” is headed in the right direction.

  2. Author
    4 years ago

    Anthony,

    I am beginning to think that you and I have reached an impasse. I think we have both stated our positions as clearly as possible to each other, and that there simply is not enough common ground for us to be able to “speak” to one another. But…let us at least try to carry this dialogue on further.

    You have said that you disagree with my claim that “there are plenty who do not resist who do not find”, and you cited Jesus to support your disagreement. Besides the fact that “casting out” and being “silent” or “hidden” are two very different things – and thus your use of the Jesus quote seems not to support your disagreement -, you have said nothing of the concrete example I cited: the example of Mother Teresa. How can we say that the faithful are never among those who fail to see/experience the presence of God when we have clear examples before us?

    You also say this: “The people who submit their lives to Christ don’t have this problem [of not simply “seeing” the truth of the Bible]. The bible is compelling to them and is sufficient in knowing that God uses all things for the good of those who are called according to his purpose.” From what I can see, you offer no reasons to support this claim; you simply assert it. But since merely asserting the contrary of what I believe will do nothing to cause me to rethink my position, perhaps you could offer me a reason to believe this claim of yours. I can offer you a reason as to why I believe the contrary: The Bible does not simply present itself as true to any and all who approach it with an open min, because there are clear examples of folks who approach the Bible openly and who cannot just see its truth. There are plenty, in fact, who accept the tenets of orthodoxy, who have committed themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who have cried out to God that his Kingdom might come, and have handed themselves over to Him in trust, and who, nonetheless, are not convinced that the Bible is entirely accurate, or truthful, or some such thing.

  3. Wtspa
    Wtspa 4 years ago

    I think we both share something in common which is very important. We both believe and, at least write our posts, as if truth could be known and as if we could make logical inferences.

    You again stated that there are people who approach the bible with an open mind. I think youre insinuating that someone can hold a neutral position and let the facts speak for themselves. What you may not realize is something Todd pointed out. I agree with him when he says that it all comes down to our presuppositions about reality. Nobody approaches the bible with an “open mind” and everyone will interpret their experiences through the filter of a worldview. When it is said that the bible doesnt present itself as true, is to commit the fallacy of reification. The bible is a book and does not present a case for you to critique. It will be interpreted by your biased presupossitions. Ill post about this some other time.

  4. Author
    4 years ago

    I do not mean to insinuate at all that one can approach the Bible with a neutral perspective, free of biases and interpretive lenses. I agree with you that one cannot. All I am saying is that your earlier claim that the Bible is compelling to all the faithful – and thus, that a true Christian cannot experience the silence of God – flies flat in the face of the fact that there are plenty of Christians who want to experience Scripture as an authentic medium of God’s voice and presence, but who, nevertheless, do not (or do not always). I have offered the specific example of Mother Teresa to support this contention.

  5. Wtspa
    Wtspa 4 years ago

    Am I supposed to doubt that the biblical God is love because someone’s personal feelings is quoted?

    I guess your solution would be that she needed some sort of “divine hug” or maybe she’d feel better if a voice from the sky said “I love you”.

    God’s love isn’t dependent on the interpretation of his creation nor any lack of understanding. We wouldn’t have the slightest idea what love was if he hadn’t revealed himself through the bible.

    What is love according to your worldview?

  6. Author
    4 years ago

    “Am I supposed to doubt that the biblical God is love because someone’s personal feelings is quoted?”

    Anthony, I still don’t think we are communicating very clearly. Nothing I have said has had even the distant implication that you should doubt the love of God. The quotation from Mother Teresa is meant merely to demonstrate the simple claim that even Christians experience the silence of God. I think you think I am trying to say, or show, or argue something else.

  7. Wtspa
    Wtspa 4 years ago

    ///Nothing I have said has had even the distant implication that you should doubt the love of God.///

    Really?

    ///Thus, there does not exist a loving, fatherly God.///

    Since this argument is targeted towards Christians, then the Christian should refer to the bible for answers. God has revealed how his love is always manifested in difficult times. Through God’s revelation Christians can know that ALL things (including perceived silence) work together for GOOD to THEM THAT LOVE (biblical) GOD, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28. We have the old testament providing examples of this throughout history.

    If someone refers to anything other than God’s revelation, then they will only come up with false conclusions about their circumstances. i.e. “Thus, there does not exist a loving, fatherly God”

    I do see a lot of assumptions about the love of a “god/nameless force” in your premises. Where do you get your information from and why should that source be the authority for what love should or should not be like?

  8. Author
    4 years ago

    “Since this argument is targeted towards Christians, then the Christian should refer to the bible for answers.”

    I agree that Scripture provides an excellent source of wisdom and insight for Christians struggling with things like the problem of silence. We find there the example of plenty of believers who struggled with the same thing (esp. Psalm 83:1 and the entire book of Job); and we also find there the testimony that God in Jesus has entered into our suffering, and even – I would argue – those periods of what seem disconnect from God. But for non-Christians, and even for some Christians, they find that they cannot turn to Scripture — either because they do not believe it to speak the truth, or because they do not find it to speak to the very thing they are struggling with. As I’ve said before, the Problem of Silence will be especially problematic to those Christians who do not experience Scripture in the same way as you seem to.

    As far as my assumptions about the love of a fatherly God, I mentioned earlier that these assumptions come from the Christian tradition, esp. the way that tradition has interpreted the Bible’s use of the analogy of God as Father. So, ultimately, the Problem of Silence is utilizing Scripture as its source of information: It says, “Alright, let’s take the notion of a Heavenly Father and see what that would seem to imply.” And then what it seems to imply (so the argument goes) is that this God cannot possibly match up with the world in which we live.

    I, myself, think that this argument, though it plays on understandable and common intuitions about what a father (and thus, a Heavenly Father) would be like, it does not take full stock of the richness and complexity of the biblical concept of God. More specifically, I think this argument fails to notice that aspect of God which the Christian tradition has called “Transcendance”. For instance, the Problem of Silence draws upon a concept of God that does not square very well with the concept of God presented in the book of Job.

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