God’s Still, Small Voice

It has been a year since Peter died. No waves of grief swept over me on this melancholy anniversary, only mild surprise that a year had passed. Perhaps I am numb from all the other losses. When grief is piled on grief, loss upon loss, where does one begin to heal? What is wholeness except putting all one’s hope in a glorious resurrection?

In the last year, I have asked for but not received any assurance of Peter’s salvation. God, perhaps rightly, is silent on the topic. I do have little hints here and there that like the thief on the cross, Peter may have turned to Christ before his eyes rolled back in his head on the stretcher. Peter did give me permission to pray for him the night before he died. I did pray. Others have told me God gave them peace concerning Peter. I stitch all these scraps together into a crazy quilt of hope.

It would be nice to have friend to friend conversation with God concerning Peter. I sought this during the five years I daily prayed for Peter’s healing, deliverance, and salvation. I would pray through the Psalms and sometimes hear, I thought, God whisper, “This promise is for Peter.” Nothing audible—just the slightest impression.  

But Peter died. I do not know, therefore, how to assess all the promises I thought I heard from God—the times a verse seemed to jump out, capture my heart, and give me hope for Peter. Was this really the God speaking? Or was I putting into the mouth of God the words I longed to hear? Were the promises God spoke to me when we adopted him a fantasy. Peter, after all, became somewhat the opposite of the promised “mighty man of God.”

It happened again today. Each morning, I write a verse or two on three 3×5 cards–one for Teckla, Ari, and me. I add a short blessing and prayer. Today the verse was from I Timothy 1:14 where Paul concerning his own salvation declares “the grace of our Lord was more than abundant.” My heart, or perhaps the quiet voice of God, added, “For Peter.” Do I trust this?

It would be nice to know whether at the end Peter placed his faith in Jesus. But this question may have to remain unanswered. The deeper question is whether I expect too much of God by way of friendship and conversation. Each morning Teckla and I have been singing hymns, many of which talk about how we “walk and talk” with Jesus. By faith, I declare that Jesus has always been, and still is, with me. I talked, but never heard Jesus talk in the midst of what has been hardest and darkest years of my life.

Of course, I took and continue to take comfort in God’s Word which in a general way is God speaking to us. This, however, is not friendship. My real question is not the cliché question, “Why me, O Lord? Why did you let Peter die?” These questions don’t bother me. The more enduring question is where is the friendship and communication that is the heart of all relationships? Where is the Holy Spirit that makes real the presence of Christ with us? The tragedy of Peter’s death and trauma in the years leading up to his death only make these questions more acute.

It has also been disconcerting that so many who have gone through similar loss and grief testify to how present God was with and how His Spirit comforted them and spoke to them. I am of course, glad they have had this wonderful experience of God’s continual presence in their darkest days. I can certainly, by faith, say God has always been with me. But I cannot say that God’s silent and invisible presence has been much comfort. I have longed for the conversations so many believers say they have with God during their trying times. So what’s up?

Here are the multiple-choice answers:

1) Mark, you simply lack the faith to enter the intimate fellowship and conversation God has for you. You have substandard relationship with God. Repent.  

2) Mark, you need to recognize that although we talk about conversation and friendship with God, what we really mean are these little impressions that we choose to call God’s voice. Anyone can do it.

 3) Mark, most of what you thought was God speaking to you was ventriloquism and self-deception. We all do it. Repent. When God really does speak, like Job, you will know it.

4) Mark, all God’s promises for Peter were true but contingent on Peter’s choices. God was speaking what He hoped Peter would choose. God was waiting to see what Peter would do. He too was heartbroken by Peter’s choices. You did hear God’s still, small voice.

If I were a Calvinist, I could declare all four answers simultaneously true even though contradictory. I could answer objections to logical contradictions with the declaration that God’s ways are not our ways, God is a mystery, we are finite, and God need not be confined or restrained by our logic. But this opens the door to all kinds of nonsense declarations like Calvinists are absolutely right, although completely wrong.

Or I could take refuge in the story of Job. Although it brings some comfort, it fails to help in crucial ways. Job did not experience the abiding presence, communication, and fellowship with God during his losses and trials. Job spoke and until the end, God was silent. Until God appears and speaks, Job yammers away with his complaint and wishes he was never born. Should I too pound away at this question of communication until God appears and speaks to me?  That might be awhile. Do we really want anyone to follow Job’s example? No one wants Job showing up at their Bible studies or prayer meetings.

And what about the Holy Spirit? How can a believer filled with the Holy Spirit follow the example of Job? Perhaps I am expecting too much of the Holy Spirit. It is certainly a puzzle how a believer filled with the Holy Spirit can experience a “dark night of the soul” and God’s absence. God in us should not be something we just take on faith like a doctrine.

Peter’s death and all the crushing disappointment that came with it did not create these questions, but it did sharpen them and make me desperate to know what I ought to expect from God. “Getting over my grief” will not vanquish the question.I have become permanently impatient with religious cliches and vagaries. I long for my experience of God to match our language about an intimate relationship with God.

And Teckla’s memory loss, a grief fresh daily, raises another topic that I would love to talk over with God—if that is not expecting too much. We need to talk before all the questions are forgotten.  

About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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