God’s Word is a precious gift, one that he is not obligated to give. No external force or obligation compelled God to reveal himself, his purposes, or his ways to people like us. Yet God did just that, clearly, sufficiently, and truthfully, through his Word. If you were lost in a trackless jungle, without map, guide, or GPS, and someone came to you and showed you the way home, you would recognize their guidance as a blessing, as a gift. That is what God’s Word is like. We were lost, apart from it, yet through it God has graciously shown us the way home. God’s Word is an expression of his grace for people like us.
Yet so often we view reading Scripture as a chore. We approach it as if God’s Word is boring, or reading it an obligation we must fulfill. Why does the reality that Scripture is a precious gift so often fail to shape our habits and attitudes about the Bible?
Truthfully, there are many reasons why this is true. Satan endeavors to blind our minds and hearts to the beauty of Christ as he is revealed in Scripture (2 Cor 4:4). Sometimes, even if our motives for Bible reading are good, we utilize methods for Bible reading that are deficient, and that leave us confused and indifferent. Sometimes sinful habits and attitudes make our hearts cold and unreceptive to the Word.
But sometimes, often really, the problem is that we just don’t want to listen to God. Even as we read the Word and strive to hear from him, we subtly convey attitudes that suggest that we really aren’t interested in hearing what God has said to us through his Word.
We subtly ignore God’s voice when we act like it is not sufficient. On my shelves are many theological books, books about the Christian life, and devotional books. As I’ve walked with Jesus for a few decades, some of these books have played a significant role in shaping and encouraging my faith. But none of them are God’s Word. The best of them are secondary supplements to God’s Word, making clear or accessible what God has already said in Scripture. Yet I often interact with Christians who seem to have lost sight of this, who act as if their favorite devotional book, or the preaching of a certain celebrity pastor, or the teaching of a favorite podcast (or blog!) is more instrumental to their faith than the Word of God itself is. Few would admit this outright, of course. But we should carefully weigh our attitudes toward Scripture against our attitudes toward things that are merely talking about Scripture. If we value revelation other than God’s Word more than we value God’s Word, we might not really be listening to God after all.
We subtly ignore God’s voice when we constantly filter God’s voice through the advice and opinions of others. In our secular age, rare is the voice that tells us something we don’t want to hear. The currency of our culture is self-realization (“discover your true self!”) and personal autonomy (“no one has the right to tell you who you should be/what you should do!”). In such a time and place, God’s Word powerfully imposes the realizations that we are not our own, that we belong to God, and that he alone has absolute authority over his creation and our lives. Yet we mute that power and authority by distilling God’s voice through the voices of our friends and counselors. When we feel conviction from Scripture, we ask others for input and advice – “What do you think about my situation? How do you interpret these verses?” – hoping that someone will soften the impact of Scripture’s commands by offering us an alternative understanding of those commands. It seems like we are listening to God, but really we are listening to other voices we prefer to his.
We subtly ignore God’s voice when we believe that our circumstances exempt us from obedience to God’s commands. We really want to believe that we are special, and therefore the exception to the rule. “God, I know you call your people to serve you, but I’m just too busy right now…God, I know you ask us to forgive as we have been forgiven, but I’ve just been hurt too deeply…God, I know you call us to give generously and sacrificially of what you’ve given us, but my budget is just too tight right now.” We hear God’s voice, but we listen more carefully to our circumstances. In the end, we listen more carefully to ourselves – to what we desire or perceive reality to be – rather than to what God has said.
There are consequences for ignoring God’s voice, either subtly or blatantly. Eventually, when God’s people don’t listen to him, God stops speaking. In the Old Testament, he would withdraw his prophets and leave his people alone, without his counsel. He warned of this in the book of Amos:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land – not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.”Amos 8:11-12
On this side of the cross, we need not fear that God will withdraw his prophetic witness, for we have that witness – the sufficient, clear, authoritative Word. But if we fail to listen to him, God will eventually stop speaking to us, nonetheless. As we exchange the truth of God for whatever lies suit our itching ears (see Rom 1:18-32), God will further harden our hearts so that we cannot and do not hear from him any longer. The judgment of God against our indifference to the Word will be the silence of God, even among people who possess the Word.
May we, instead, tremble in holy fear over our indifference to the Word. May we ask God to give us ears to hear and eyes to see his beauty as it is revealed in his Word. May we pray that God would accomplish his purposes for us through his Word, that it would not return empty or void to him (see Isa 55:10-11). May we come to delight in the Word of God and so be like trees, planted by streams of living water, yielding fruit in its season, and prospering in all we do because of our love for the Word of God (see Psa 1:1-6).
This article is adapted from the message The Silence of God, preached at Capitol City Christian Church on 8/11/2019. To watch or hear the whole message, click here.