The wordlessness of God

Jeremiah 23:16-40

Dec 17, 2014 by

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Imagine if this coming Sunday your pastor got up at sermon time and said the following: “After diligently studying Scripture and searching the Spirit this week, I’m here to report . . . there is no message from God. Thus saith the Lord.”

There is no salary for the pastor this week. Thus saith the church oversight committee.

The problem Jeremiah faces is as old as religion: people putting their own words into the mouth of God. They are signing God’s name to their own vision of the world. They’re ascribing their interpretation of current events to the mind of God. “The Word of the Lord,” as a concept, has become strangely cheap. It’s tossed around by anyone who ate some bad sushi and had a strange dream, attached to the talking points of the left/right-wing media, appended to every viral tweet whose original source no one has bothered to verify.

So what’s the solution to this profusion of false attributions? What’s the answer to an epidemic of over-inflated speech? God’s solution is to suspend authorized speech altogether for a while: “When people ask, ‘What is the message from God?’ say to them, ‘What message?’ ” It’s as though God were announcing to the people through Jeremiah, “In the midst of all these warring voices, where the silence falls, that’s me.” Sometimes the most accurate Word of the Lord is no word at all.

This possibility of wordlessness is one for which we rarely allow. When we face a complex hour in the life of the church, there can be a great sense of pressure to bring home “the final Word.” Contradictory claims fly in every direction. Everyone asks, “So what’s the true message from God?” God must be saying something, right?! It is tempting to manufacture artificial clarity, to seek to fill the void with the sound of our own voices, to project our common wisdom heavenward.

But God is far as well as near, and sometimes God withdraws for a time into dark and holy silence.

Sometimes this is the only way God can avoid being reduced to an idol that serves our human ends.

Sometimes this is the only way God can get our attention over the shouting.

Sometimes this is the only way God can become truly distinguishable from all our warring words and verbal fantasies.

Those who would listen for the Word must always allow for silence as one of its powerful manifestations. Perhaps the most difficult part of prophecy is learning how to hold your tongue when God is holding God’s.

A true prophet respects not just the Word but the Wordlessness of the Lord.

Meghan Larissa Good is pastor of Albany (Ore.) Mennonite Church. She writes at MudPieGod.com where this first appeared.

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