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Resources for Suffering – The Long Silence

2010 February 19
by Tim V-B

When we raise the question of suffering with God, which God are we asking?

Are we asking the gods of hinduism, which will tell you that your suffering is the result of sin in a previous life?

Are we asking the god of Islam, who will tell you “don’t question. Submit.”

Are we asking the god most people think of, who sits in heaven on a comfy throne peering down through binoculars at us little ants crawling around?

Or are we asking the God of the Bible.  The God who hangs on a cross, naked, whipped, abandoned, bleeding, dying.

We might walk up to the comfy-throne God and say “what are you doing?  Don’t you care?  Are you so removed from us that all this pain is nothing to you?”

But we wouldn’t say that to God on the cross.

Those who have read John Stott’s The Cross of Christ may remember ‘The Long Silence’ – a short story showing that God has entered the very depths of human suffering.  I’ve posted it here for your use, after the break.  Like most illustrations of biblical teaching, it is open to mis-use. In particular, this story could give the impression that God really is in the dock, and has no claim over us unless he suffered. That is not the case.  Note who is silent at the end of the story: we are.

The Long Silence

At the end of time, billions of people were seated on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly, not cringing with cringing shame – but with belligerence.

“Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?”, snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror … beatings … torture … death!”

In another group a Negro boy lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. “Lynched, for no crime but being black !”

In another crowd there was a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes: “Why should I suffer?” she murmured. “It wasn’t my fault.” Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He had permitted in His world.

How lucky God was to live in Heaven, where all was sweetness and light. Where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a negro, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the vast plain, they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.

Before God could be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth as a man.

Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind.

Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.

At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die so there can be no doubt he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered a word. No one moved.

For suddenly, all knew that God had already served His sentence.

Anon (written before Summer 1982)

2 Responses
  1. Susan Tollison permalink
    December 19, 2012

    I read this years ago in a magazine, and have looked for it. I had been looking for the wrong title. I am so thankful to have found this. I believe many arrogant Americans and others don’t realize all the ways that God went out of his way to relate to our sufferings. Praise be to God who loves us beyond our comprehension and His matchless grace!!

  2. Tim V-B permalink*
    December 19, 2012

    Glad you were able to find it. Not quite sure why you need to single out Americans. I do have an American mother and an American passport… 🙂

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