We know that God is very wise in the things he says, even if they can be very difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:16). But I think it’s the things God doesn’t say that cause us the most difficulty.
It’s what God doesn’t say that makes us ask, “Why, O Lord?” (Psalm 10:1) “Why is my pain unceasing?” (Jeremiah 15:18). “Why then do I labor in vain?” (Job 9:29). “Why do you forget us forever?” (Lamentations 5:20). “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?” (Job 21:7). Why is there so much oppression (Ecclesiastes 4:1)? “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul?” (Job 3:20).
Living by faith requires we grow in our trust that God is just as wise in what he chooses not to say as in what he chooses to say. He’s as intentional with the information he excludes as he is with information he includes.
We might call the wise silence of God the “dark matter” of divine revelation. There is real substance in what we can’t see, but it’s detected with a different kind of inquiry. “Why didn’t God say that?”
Let’s look at a few macro examples and explore some of the dark matter of divine wisdom so that we might better understand our own experience of the silence of God.
The Creation Story
God says so little about his creation of the cosmos. Genesis 1 is a massive biblical example of the fact that “now [we] know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Thirty-one simple, Spirit-inspired verses tell us God created the world in a certain sequence, but they gloss over an astronomical amount of detail. They resemble ancient creation myths in certain ways, and yet they make remarkable sense the more science discovers about the universe. The ambiguities in the account and in the Hebrew language have spawned debate inside and outside the church for 2,000 years.
Why didn’t God say more? One reason is to humble us. Genesis 1 shows us indeed “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
God chose a creation account that would provide a basic, accurate understanding of creation for his people over the course of multiple millennia, in thousands of radically different cultures with many different worldviews, conceptions of time, levels of education, and stages of technological advancement. It had to be understandable to pre-scientific, primitive, and illiterate peoples, and able to withstand withering critique by the most brilliant, educated minds of antiquity, as well as those in the modern scientific age. Its framework had to be simple enough for a child to understand and complex enough to account for a paleontologist’s discoveries.
And that’s what we have. The Bible’s explanation of creation has taken an incessant beating and is still standing. Its apparent simplicity contains carefully designed ambiguities, making it the most resilient, and most culturally and scientifically adaptable religious account of origins in human history. And it has continually humbled both believers and unbelievers since the time it was written.
How Far Is Too Far?
The Bible is very clear in both Testaments that sexual immorality profanes God’s holiness and therefore is prohibited (1 Corinthians 10:8; Numbers 25:1–9). Intercourse is clearly forbidden outside of marriage between a man and woman, but what else? For a dating or courting couple, how far is too far? The Bible isn’t highly detailed in its description of where the line of immorality is crossed. Is any kind of touching allowed? What about kissing? What about embraces and hand holding and intimate conversation?
Why didn’t God say more? One reason is because God’s will for us is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), which means God wants hearts, not just behavior. And what our hearts really want can be revealed as much in how we respond to moral ambiguity as to how we respond to moral clarity. God wants us to wrestle with the grey areas in light of knowing there’s a “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). How will we seek to love Christ by obeying his commandment to love each other (John 13:34; 14:15), and help one another pursue a “pure heart and good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:5), when we must discern what purity means for us in our place in the world and in history?
To encourage Christians to pursue holiness and make this pursuit most adaptable to culture, time periods, and individuals, God wisely determined we should not be governed by detailed rules of sexual purity, but by the principles that “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) and that we must “love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
The Second Coming
The first coming of the Messiah was cloaked in prophecy. Jesus came just as it was written about him and yet so few recognized him. He came in a way no one expected and did what no one expected. It was all there in the Scriptures, but even his closest friends who listened most to him didn’t fully see it until he helped them see (Luke 24:27).
The second coming will be similar. We have the prophecies, but the timing, events, and meaning of symbolism in Scripture have provoked much debate throughout church history.
Why didn’t God say more? One reason is because God always wants Christians to live in dependent expectation of Jesus’s imminent return. “The Son of Man is coming at an hour [we] do not expect” (Luke 12:40) because he means for us to “stay awake at all times” (Luke 21:36), and keep our lamps trimmed (Matthew 25:1–13). God knows our fight against indwelling sin, and our sense of urgency for the mission is better served by knowing Christ’s return could be at any time than that he will be long delayed (Matthew 24:45–51; 1 Corinthians 7:29).
Wisdom in the Silence
So much more could be said about what God doesn’t say. But what’s important to remember is this: God is very wise and intentional in what he makes clear to us and does not make clear to us.
Jesus understands the cry of “why?” that pours out of a heart in pain. He too made this cry in the hour of his greatest agony: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). And there was no thunderous answer. So in dark silence he endured the cross in faith for our salvation and our example (Hebrews 12:2).
God wants us to live by faith, trusting his reliable promises more than our unreliable perceptions (2 Corinthians 5:7). But a thorough, careful reading of the Bible causes us to detect in God’s wise silence the dark matter of divine revelation: God’s trustworthy purposes in not telling us everything.
Because of what he does make clear, we can learn to trust him just as much in what he does not make clear. God is silent for only very good reasons.