Salvation in the Silence of God

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Good Friday encompasses the silence of God, even as it focuses on our salvation in the cross of Christ.

He stood there in silence as the kangaroo court raged with accusation after accusation. Asked to answer the charges, he pleaded the fifth when there was no fifth to plead. The charges were baseless, false, and twisted, but the Truth stayed silent. What should he say to quiet their anger? His silence spoke volumes. It became a screen upon which to hurl the wild imaginations of guilty and suspicious minds. Why would he not answer? His silence would condemn him, but his curse would be our salvation.

Good Friday encompasses the silence of God, even as it focuses on our salvation in the cross of Christ. So often, Good Friday sermons speak on the Seven Last Words of Christ, but God says infinitely more with his silence. So it is that all mortal flesh enters and leaves the presence of God in the sanctuary to be still and silent before the mystery. Here we embrace the silence of God, our salvation. We contemplate the final sacrifice as he stands silent before the awestruck Pontius Pilate like a lamb before his sheerer (Isa 53:7).

“Pilate again asked him, ‘Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you?’ But Jesus made no further answer” (Mark 15:4-5).

The silence is profound. Here God is in the dock: he is standing trial and he says nothing. Here, once and for all, God hears all the accusations of man and says nothing in his own defense. He refuses to speak for himself so that he might justify you with his silence. He pleads the fifth, not for his sake, but yours.

His silence is worth contemplating for a would-be Christian apologist. Wherever Christians engage in evangelism, they reason with unbelievers. They make a defense (an apology) for the faith as Paul’s example, and Peter’s command admonishes them (1 Peter 3:15). Evangelists cannot afford to neglect apologetics. Yet some defenses make a better case than others in court, and every lawyer has his limitations. An apologist dares not to speak where God remains silent. We dare not justify God before the accusations of a kangaroo court, even if David Hume, the eighteenth century skeptic, is acting as judge.

Apologetics does well to steer clear of theodicy, which is the attempt to justify God as if he has to answer for evil, pain, and suffering in this world. One of the many problems with theodicy is trying to make the incomprehensible mystery of God comprehensible. Even so, theodicy has a long tradition in the western world. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is perhaps the most famous proponent of the concept.

Theodicy makes God speak where he remains silent. No one likes to have words put in their mouth. Finally, a God we can comprehend is a God subject to our finite reason and is no longer infinite enough to be worthy of faith. To explain away the mystery is to explain away God. You can bring the problem of evil before God all you like and try to make him answer for it, but it was precisely that evil he confronted in Pontius Pilate’s palace and responded to with a deafening silence.

Admittedly, the silence is frustrating when there is so much evil in this world. Our news channels confront us with this evil day in and day out. Child slavery and abuse, war and plague, cancer and Covid-19, this world knows its share of pestilence and evil. We mortals see evil and feel the need to call it out. We call out to God, but too often our prayers seem to go unanswered. God’s silence can be deafening. But it ought to make us pause in dumb-struck awe along with Pilate. God’s silence in the face of the evil of this world is so profound; it is as if you could hear the pin dropping from a grenade in the middle of battle. Yet, it is this very same silence that becomes our salvation on the cross. It is there on the cross that Jesus, very God of very God and light of light, wrestled with the silence of God in the face of evil for all humanity.

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” This cry of Jesus from the cross was first uttered long before in Psalm 22. “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Oh My God, I cry by day but you do not answer, and by night but I find no rest. Yet your are holy…” (Ps 22:1-3).

It is strange that the word of God here in Psalm 22 should affirm man’s accusation of God’s silence, but that is what the Psalm does. Jesus cites this word of God precisely when God is silent in the face of the greatest evil the world has ever known—his very own death. However, this is not a cry of unbelief or an ungodly accusation. Rather, Jesus affirms that God is holy even in silence. Here, God is done talking. Instead, he delivers salvation in silence. Here in death, God unites himself with man to enter the eternal silence that he might shatter the gates of hell with a whisper at the mouth of a cave in the resurrection. It is in his resurrection that he says, “Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted among the nations” (Ps 46:10). So we greet Good Friday, silent and still before the mystery of silence, our salvation.