When the Teacher is Quiet

I went and saw God's Not Dead 2 last night, and my opinions of the movie itself put aside, one particular quote from the movie left a huge impression on me. It comes up when the protagonist of the story -- Grace, who is currently under trial for including a quotation from Jesus in the public school history class that she teaches -- is speaking to her father about the seeming lack of response from God each and every time she approaches Him with her troubles. She prays and prays, but she can't seem to feel His presence anymore. She doesn't question His existence or doubt His goodness, but instead questions why He isn't responding to her. She doesn't understand, she's standing up for Him, yet He is quiet throughout it all!

It is at this point that her father smiles at her and says something along the lines of, "You should know the answer to that question better than anyone." Not comprehending, Grace asks him to continue. Looking at her with a knowing sensitivity, he fully explains:

When you are going through difficulty and wonder where God is, remember that the teacher is always quiet during the test.

Now this got me thinking, first in the theater and then even beyond the theater. Thinking to the point that I wanted to sit down and write something just to make sense of that simple truth. The teacher is always quiet during the test.

The first thing you have to consider when dissecting metaphors is quite possibly the most important thing about the metaphor itself: is it valid? Is it true? Does the metaphor properly illustrate the truth that it is trying to convey? This is especially true in metaphors that attempt to make sense of the mysterious actions of God, trying to explain why He does things that we might not understand. If the metaphor is false or inaccurate, you could quite possibly cause the person [with whom you are sharing the metaphor] to (1) become more confused in regards to the initial mystery or, even worse, (2) develop a false view of God driven by misinterpreted understanding of motives and actions. A common example of this would be metaphors revolving around the Holy Trinity, most of which fail to accurately capture the idea of the Triune God as Christians see Him and understand Him to be. To rely too heavily on any one of these metaphors is to subject yourself to either underestimating the diversity of the Triune God (modalism; see the "three states of water" metaphor) or underestimating the unity of the Triune God (tritheism or partialism; see the "three-leaf clover" metaphor), both of which result in the formation of heretical beliefs. In this way, you can easily see the importance of a proper metaphor in regards to any attempt of explaining God.

And, as is the case with most things involving God, it is smart to look to the Bible for your answers. So that's what I did, and the result of that search has produced the article which you now read. So, in the following paragraphs, I hope to put an end to the question we all ask ourselves at some point in life:

What happens when the teacher is quiet?

I should start off by saying that silence from God isn't some new anomaly that has arisen over the last few decades, centuries, or even millennia. No, God's silence is not a new quality that people have conjured up or just recently began to attribute to Him, but instead has been an ongoing theme ever since the very beginning of time! Heck, the 400 year gap in between the Old Testament and the New Testament has literally been labeled "the Silent Years," so apparently absent did God seem to the Israelite people of those days. And since silence is no new thing to arise over the past few years, we have plenty of material and evidence provided to us that will allow us to determine our answer to this fundamental question. And based off of our Bible-based knowledge that the Lord is unchanging (Psalm 102:27, Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8), we can deduce that what we read to be true from the Bible is still true to this day, and thus we have plenty of material and evidence provided to us that will allow us to determine our answer.

Like a college professor or grade-school teacher handing out exams at the beginning of class, God, the greatest teacher of all, will often be silent during tests, allowing us to utilize the knowledge He has imparted on us to deduce our own answers without aid, to see how truly we clung to His words and... how much homework we did, I guess you could say. Even if we didn't prepare well enough ahead of the test or even if He decides to throw a pop quiz totally unannounced, did we devote enough time to soaking in His words to still pass the test before us? It is largely a test of faith -- to see how much faith we put in Him and, in return, to see how much faith He can put in us.

To demonstrate, let's go all the way back to Genesis -- back to the beginning of time -- with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.The Bible tells us that they walked and talked with God, a scene that, as best we can understand, was the closest thing the world ever got to experiencing heaven here on earth. Since they had no parents to learn from, God was their sole teacher, showing them the beauty of the world and establishing the practices of the Sabbath, marriage, and a personal relationship with Him. For a time, the world was in bliss (even nowadays, the word "Eden" is often used in conjunction with "paradise" or "perfection"). 

Then came test day. Eve is walking through the Garden and for once, God is strangely absent -- quiet, not speaking, not heard. She is totally alone. A serpent comes to her and starts asking her some questions, and those very questions happen to be over the material that the Teacher had taught her. Immediately the Teacher's words come to mind, but the woman has trouble reciting the things He had taught, instead misquoting the Teacher and confusing herself in the process. Amidst the confusion, the woman fails the test, doing the one thing the Teacher had instructed her not to do. Still, the Teacher says nothing. He stays out of sight and keeps His mouth closed, waiting. Watching. He waits, allowing the second student -- the original student, Adam -- to come along. Will he fail the test as well?

He does. As the woman holds the forbidden fruit out to him, Adam takes a bite as well, sealing fate and failing the test that God had allowed them to take. At long last the Teacher approaches, and immediately the students hide, realizing how miserably they have failed. The teacher scolds them, casting them away from paradise. Is there any hope in this world? Even the first two students have failed their test.

Skip forward a few thousand years and we meet a man named Abraham, a man whom, in a surprising twist of events, has decided to make God his Teacher. God had come to him personally and he readily accepted the offer; as a result, God has even provided him with a beautiful baby boy whom he named Isaac. But, little did he know, exam day was coming soon. Isaac grew into a young man, and before long, it was time for Abraham to be tested.

"Abraham," the Teacher begins, as we read in Genesis chapter 22. "Take your son, your only son, whom you love -- Isaac -- and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burn offering on a mountain I will show you" (v.22).

Abraham obeys. He saddles his donkeys and, along with his only son, makes his way to the region of which God had commanded him. And it is silent. The Teacher is quiet and says not a word, for the test has begun.

At long last, Isaac turns to his father: "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burn offering?" (v.7)

Lucky for Abraham -- and especially lucky for Isaac -- the man has done his studying. Since Abraham paid attention in "class," he remembers what the Teacher had taught him, even though the lesson had been taught many years before. "God himself will provide the lamb for the burn offering," he tells Isaac (v. 8), reassuring him. He remembers God's promise to bless him. He remembers the covenant that God had made with him. He had faith and placed that faith in the Lord, and thus he passed the test. The Teacher at last breaks the silence, stopping Abraham at the last possible moment: "Do not lay a hand on the boy!" He commands (v. 12). Unlike Adam and unlike Eve when they had been in Eden, Abraham had passed his test, even though the Teacher had been silent throughout.

And these examples are just two from the first book of the Bible. The first book! Given that knowledge, imagine how many more times we get to see God firsthand utilizing silence to test His students. To name a few:

  • The many years that Joseph found himself tested by near fratricide and subsequently the oppression of Egyptian captivity, staying devout in his faith despite the seeming silence God showed him and the bad luck he seemed to be plagued by (Genesis 37-44)
  • In the absence of their leader Moses, who had served as the mediator between them and God, the Israelite people failed their forty day test of silence by creating a golden calf in the place of God (Exodus 32); as a result of their continued disobedience, they, like Adam and Eve, would be subjected to the wilderness
  • Did not King David write to the Lord through many psalms during the greatest trials of his life (fleeing from his predecessor Saul and later from his rebel son Absalom), staying devout in his faith yet seeking words from the Lord? (Psalms 3, 11, 59) Did he not call out to the Lord after his sin with Bathsheba? (Psalms 32, 51) David was a man after God's own heart despite facing many instances of the Lord being silent through tribulations.
  • Did not Jesus, God Himself in the flesh, quote a psalm of David as He faced the greatest test of His life, acknowledging God's apparent absence throughout the situation? "My God,my God! Why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22, Matthew 27:46) Jesus recognized God's silence, yet still, He did not turn away from His Father but instead endured the test and passed it, if I may say so myself, with flying colors.

Examples of these tests are abundant throughout the Bible, so I would say that yes, this metaphor perfectly describes the relationship that God, the Teacher, shares with His people, the students. The Teacher is quiet during the test not because He doesn't care about our results or is too busy to help us out, but because He wants us to grow. He wants us to establish where we stand. He wants to see firsthand the display of our faith, to see how we handle the test and how we go about solving the answers.

It isn't about getting all the answers correct. It's about handling the pressure in stride.

God isn't watching us and just waiting for us to mess up so that He can yell, "Ha, you failed!" In accordance with the characterization of God from the Bible, that's just not the kind of person He is, so don't fool yourself into thinking that the constant tests put before you are a means of ensuring your failure. Instead, think of it like this: the Teacher is providing you with test after test so that even if you don't want to do the work -- even if you aren't willing to put in the work it takes to pass -- you will still learn the material. He will come to you and He will help you, even if you didn't bother to ask for that help. We often reject God and go the opposite way, pursuing the ways of the world, but He will give us test after test  because He knows that eventually, the answer will click. Eventually, the test will be put before us and, even in His silence, we will know the answer. We can succumb to temptation over and over again, but the Father has given us a conscience through His Holy Spirit so that when we do "miss an answer," warning signals will go off in our brain.

God not talking during the test isn't to hurt us, it's to help us. If He spoke sense to us every moment of every day, how would we be able to prove our faith in Him? Where would the free will be? He has provided us with the pencils, the papers, and the textbooks; all he requires of us is one thing -- the answer -- and if we pay attention, He's given that to us too! It's literally the easiest class you've ever taken, you just need to pay attention. God can speak without speaking, but only if you listen. "Whoever has ears, let him hear" (Matt. 11:15, Mark 4:9). The purpose of the test is to see how you will handle it. He wants to see where your faith lies. Everybody reacts to silence differently -- some will diminish in their faith, some will grow; it is the testing process that determines your true character. You have to experience a little bit of hell in order to truly appreciate heaven.

So whenever you face a tough time in your life and you are on your knees praying and praying and praying and if it just doesn't seem like God is answering, don't be alarmed. God is testing you because he wants to see where you stand. As we learn in Romans 4, Abraham was justified by his faith, a truth that was as true for Abraham then as it is for you and me now. It isn't about the works we do, but the faith we have. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). So maintain faith, for that is the key to passing the test!

After the 400 Silent Years between the Old Testament and New Testament, God spoke the loudest He had ever spoken by sending the Word -- Jesus Christ, the Father's only begotten Son -- down to earth to save us all, but the people at that time had gotten so used to the silence that they forgot how to listen. So I encourage you with this: when you are facing a tribulation in your life, pray earnestly and seek His voice. If He replies -- if you can feel His presence -- then listen earnestly and obey His commands. If He doesn't reply and He feels more distant than ever, don't be alarmed or worried. As He constantly reminds us, there is no reason to be afraid, for He is with us, even when we can't feel it. "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4). We will all be tested and, as a result, we will all face silence. Even now, we are in the midst of a nearly 2,000-year long silence, awaiting His triumphant return when He will call us to Him. So hold onto your faith and persist onward. "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong" (1 Corinthians 16:13). When He returns and comes to grade your test, you want to be ready. Utilize His silence to grow in Him, to meditate on His word and better understand the gift of life that He has provided us with. His promises of old are true to this day, and His plans have been established since before the beginning of time. So stand firm and look towards Him.

God is with you. He is always with you.

Even in the silence.