Can you imagine anything worse than crying out to God in distress, in anxiety and fear, and receiving no answer? There is nothing a believer can imagine as being more terrible than to be shunned by God.
King Saul experienced it just before he was killed in battle. He had earlier turned away from God and had killed His priests and now God did not answer him. In the pits of despair, he turned to a medium to conjure up God’s prophet Samuel and says to him, “I am in great distress for … God has turned away from me and answers me no more” (1 Sam. 28:15).
David, too, experienced it temporarily and, through the Spirit, wrote of it in Psalm 22. “O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer” (vs 2).
It’s a cry of deep desperation. Schilder once said[i]: If God refuses to speak, that is the beginning of death; that is the darkest depth of despair; the portal of hell.
Know why? Because the greatest joy one can have is that God speaks to man. Man was created to have covenant fellowship with God. Therefore man is perfectly happy if he can speak with his God and when God responds to him. That is the delight of our covenant relationship with God, the secret of religious joy.
True religion is fellowship between God and man. And that fellowship is also evident in words, just as when people converse together. And because God is the Almighty, that conversation involves man asking God, and God answering. And when that happens there is that blessed joy in man’s heart.
But that’s also why there is no greater misery than when God does not answer. The man asks and keeps asking and cannot do without God answering.
Consider some examples from Scripture. Jacob can’t find a more fitting name for God than to refer to Him as: the God who answers me. “I will make an altar to the God who answers me” (Gen. 35:3).
Job laments: “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me” (Job 30:20).
And in Jer. 3:3 we read: “Call to me and I will answer you.” This is a such wonderful promise!
And finally we read in Micah 3:7: “the seers shall be disgraced and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God”.
If God does not answer, it is a sign of his wrath and indignation. It hits you like a bolt out of the blue. All the Psalms are full of the prayer: Hear us. And always God heard and replied.
But when Jesus hangs on the cross in pain and torment and cries out to His Father, God does not answer. Remember that Jesus is not speaking here as the Son of God but as a human being, as our representative, as the suffering man. There He hangs, on the cross. There He is fully aware of the screaming injustice that the world has done to him. There He feels the warm blood from the crown of thorns trickling down his face and the blood seeping out of the nail wounds of hands and feet. There He hears the mocking cries of the mob.
And He calls to His Father. He calls as human. He calls without words. Will You, O Father, tolerate the injustice that is done here? Will You, O Judge, tolerate the wrong that is practised here? Can You be silent? Am I not your Son? Not your favourite? Doesn’t your favour rest upon Me anymore? Will You not speak, testify, give a sign, do a miracle, heavenly Father?
But the Father remains silent. Oh, imagine for a moment, what this silence in effect says.
Moses once had his official position questioned by Korah, Dathan, Abiram. Then God did not remain silent. The earth opened up and swallowed them up. But here He does not answer.
He once answered Elijah with fire from heaven.
Yet that same God, who did uphold Moses’ honour and who witnessed for Elijah, does not come up for the honour of His own Son! The Son calls, the Father remains silent.
Why? Because Jesus does not cry out in his position as God but as a human being. As a man He was abandoned by God. As a man he was cursed. And as a man He received no answer from God.
Never forget that, because only in that way can you understand the mystery of Calvary. As true as it is that Jesus as man was abandoned by God, so true would it be for Him as God not to be abandoned by God.
You see, that is the great thing here. When God silently turns away from Jesus Christ, he does not regard Him as His Son, but as the guarantor of the world. And so God sees Jesus as laden with the sins of mankind. God makes Him to be sin. Jesus stands here in the place of others. And therefore God does not answer him. For in Jesus, God punishes sin. And when He is silent He shows his indignation at the sin of mankind.
Here is the hour of judgement. God does not answer Jesus, but really he does not answer humanity. That contempt is for mankind. God lets the world rage against Jesus Christ. He lets Him die on the cursed cross. And thereby He shows His holy justice. For this is what God’s silence says: Just as this one dies, so should every person die. For they have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Look, that is what the silence of God says to you. God does not prevent the death of His Son, because He demands death from sinful man. The soul, who sins, will die, as God’s mouth had spoken. That threat is fulfilled here. God’s justice demands full payment. He demands complete retribution. God gives no answer to guilty man. My sins and your sins are judged here.
Yes, never forget that also your guilt is being judged here.
Calvary – the hill of silence.
Calvary – the hill of darkness.
Calvary – the hill of no answer.
And when, on that hill, the sighing man in agony cries: O God, save us from suffering and pain, deliver us from death, O God, do not leave us – then heaven remains closed and by His silence God says: what communion has the holy God with unholy man?
Here is no fellowship – and that is why there is no word of response for the guilty world. The soul that sins will die.
And yet, never has God spoken more clearly than when he did not answer Jesus’ cry at Golgotha.
That silence was the punishment Jesus suffered on our behalf. Thereby He paid the price we could never have paid. He was shunned by the father so that we should never be shunned. He was the atoning sacrifice for our sins and has reconciled us to the Father.
Because God did not answer the cry of Jesus but let Him die on the cross, we may call on God as our Father and know He will always answer us. Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” so that we might never be forsaken by Him.
[i] K Schilder, Preken (sermons) Vol. 1, Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, Goes, 1957. Much of the above is based on the first point in Schilder’s sermon on Psalm 22:2.