SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
THE SILENCE OF GOD
A SILENT Heaven is the greatest mystery of our existence.
Some there are, indeed, for whom the problem has no perplexities. In a
philosophy of silly optimism, or a life of selfish isolation, they have
"attained Nirvana." For such the sad and hideous realities of life around us
have no existence. Upon their path these cast no shadow. The serene atmosphere
of their fools' paradise is undisturbed by the cry of the suffering and the
oppressed. But earnest and thoughtful men face these realities, and have ears
to hear that cry; and their indignant wonder finds utterance at times in some
such words as those of the old Hebrew prophet and bard, "Doth God know? And is
there knowledge in the Most High? Society, even in the great centres of our
modern civilisation, is all too like a slave-ship, where, with the sounds of
music and laughter and revelry on the upper deck, there mingle the groans of
untold misery battened down below. Who can estimate the sorrow and suffering
and wrong endured during a single round of the clock even in the favoured
metropolis of highly favoured England? And if it be thus in the green tree,
what shall be said of the dry! What mind is competent to grasp the sum of all
this great world's misery, heaped up day after day, year after year, century
after century? Human hearts may plan, and human hands achieve, some little to
alleviate it, and the strong and ready arm of human law may accomplish much in
the protection of the weak and the punishment of the wicked. But as for God -
the light of moon and stars is not more cold and pitiless than He appears to
be! Every new chapter in the story of Turkish misrule raises a fresh storm of
indignation throughout Europe. The conscience of Christendom is outraged by
tales of oppression and cruelty and wrong inflicted on the Christian subjects
of the Porte.
Here is a testimony to the Armenian massacres of 1895
"Over 6o,ooo Armenians have been butchered. In Trebizond, Erzeroum, Erzinghian, Hassankaleh, and numberless other places the Christians were crushed like grapes during the vintage. The frantic mob, seething and surging in the streets of the cities, swept down upon the defenceless Armenians, plundered their shops, gutted their houses, then joked and jested with the terrified victims, as cats play with mice. The rivulets were choked up with corpses; the streams ran red with human blood; the forest glades and rocky caves were peopled with the dead and dying; among the black ruins of once prosperous villages lay roasted infants by their mangled mothers' corpses; pits were dug at night by the wretches destined to fill them, many of whom, flung in when but lightly wounded, awoke underneath a mountain of clammy corpses, and vainly wrestled with death and with the dead, who shut them out from light and life for ever.
"A man In Erzeroum, hearing a tumult, and fearing for his children, who were playing in the street, went out to seek and save them. He was borne down upon by the mob. He pleaded for his life, protesting that he had always lived in peace with his Moslem neighbours, and sincerely loved them. The statement may have represented a fact, or it may have been but a plea for pity. The ringleader, however, told him that that was the proper spirit, and would be condignly rewarded. The man was then stripped, and a chunk of his flesh cut out of his body, and jestingly offered for sale: 'Good fresh meat, and dirt cheap,' exclaimed some of the crowd. 'Who'll buy fine dog's meat?' echoed the amused bystanders. The writhing wretch uttered piercing screams as some of the mob, who had just come from riffing the shops, opened a bottle and poured vinegar or some acid into the gaping wound. He called on God and man to end his agonies. But they had only begun. Soon afterwards two little boys came up, the elder crying, 'Hairik, Hairih (Father, father), save me! See what they've done to me!' and pointed to his head, from which the blood was stream ing over his handsome face, and down his neck. The younger brother - a child of about three - was playing with a wooden toy. The agonising man was silent for a second and then, glancing at these his children, made a frantic but vain effort to snatch a dagger from a Turk by his side. This was the signal for the renewal of his torments. The bleeding boy was finally dashed with violence against the dying father, who began to lose strength and consciousness, and the two were then pounded to death where they lay. The younger chlld sat near, dabbling his wooden toy in the blood of his father and brother, and looking up, now through smiles at the prettily dressed Kurds and now through tears at the dust-begrimed thing that had lately been his father. A slash of a sabre, wound up his short experience of God's world, and the crowd turned its attention to others.
"These are but isolated scenes revealed for a brief second by the light, as it were, of a momentary lightning-flash. The worst cannot be descrthed."-Contemporary Review, January, 1896.
The following refers to still more recent horrors :-
"In no place in this region has the attack upon the Christians been more savage than in Egin. Every male above twelve years ot age who could be found was slain. Only one Armenian was found who had been seen and spared. Many children and boys were laid on their backs and their necks cut like sheep. The women and children were gathered together in the yard of the Government building and in various places throughout the town. Turks, Kurds, and soldiers went among these women, selected the fairest, and led them aside to outrage them. In the village of Pinguan fifteen women threw themselves into the river to escape dishonour."-The Times, December 10, 5896.
And what is the element in all this that most exasperates the public sentiment? It is that the Sultan has the power to prevent all this, but will not. That, while possessing ample means to restrain and punish, he remains unmoved, and in the safe seclusion of his palace gives himself up to a life of luxury and ease. But has Almighty God no power to check such crimes? Even Abdul Hamid has been shamed into laying aside the dignity of kingship, and making heard his personal voice in Europe to repel the charge his seeming inaction has raised to his discredit. But in vain do we strain our ears to hear some voice from the throne of the Divine Majesty. The far-off heaven where, in perfect peace and unutterable glory, God dwells and reigns, is SILENT!
"So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun; and behold, the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter." And this in a world ruled and governed by a God who is Almighty!
And when we withdraw our thoughts from the great world around us, and fix them upon the narrow circle of His faithful people, the facts are no less stern, and the mystery grows more inscrutable. Devoted men leave our shores, forsaking the security, the comforts, the charms, the countless benefits of life in the midst of our Christian civilisation, to carry the knowledge of the true God to heathen lands. But by and by we hear of their massacre by the hands of those whom thus they sought to elevate and bless. And where is "the true God" they served? The little band of Christian men who were in a special sense His accredited ambassadors, noble women too, who shared in their exile and their labours, and little children whose tender helplessness might excite the pity of a very devil, in their terror and agony cried to Heaven for the succour which never came. The God they trusted might surely have turned the hearts, or restrained the hands, of their brutal murderers. Is it possible to imagine circumstances that would more fitly claim the help of Him whom they worshipped as all-powerful both in heaven and on earth? But the earth has drunk in their blood, and a silent Heaven has seemed to mock their cry!
And these horrors are but mere ripples on the surface of the deep, wide sea of the Church's sufferings throughout the ages of her history. From the old days of Pagan Rome right down through the centuries of so-called "Christian" persecutions, the untold millions of the martyrs, the best and purest and noblest of our race, have been given up to violence and outrage and death in hideous forms. The heart grows sick at the appalling story, and we turn away with a dull but baseless hope that it may be in part at least untrue. But the facts are too terrible to make exaggeration in the record of them possible. Torn by wild beasts in the arena, torn by men as merciless as wild beasts, and, far more hateful, in the torture chambers of the Inquisition, His people have died, with faces turned to heaven, and hearts upraised in prayer to God; but the heaven has seemed as hard as brass, and the God of their prayers as powerless as themselves or as callous as their persecutors!
But most men are selfish in their sympathies.
Some private grief at times looms greater than all the sum of the world's miseries and the Church's sufferings. If ever there was a saint on earth, it is the mother to whose deathbed sons and daughters have been summoned from various pursuits of business or of pleasure. In all their wanderings that mother's piety and faith have been a guiding and restraining influence. And now, thus gathered once more in the old home, they are keen to watch how, in the solemn crisis of her last days on earth, God will deal with one of the loveliest and truest of His children. And what do they behold? The poor body racked with pain that never ceases till all capacity for suffering is quenched by the hand of Death! If human skill could give relief the attending physician would be dismissed as heartless or incompetent. Is God, then, incompetent or heartless? To Him they look to relieve the death agonies of the dying saint, but they look to Him in vain!
Or it may be some grief more selfish still. The crash of some great sorrow that turns a bright home into a waste, and leaves the heart so be-numbed and hard that even the so-called "consolations of religion" appear but hollow platitudes. Why should God be so cruel? Why is Heaven so terribly silent?
The most prolific fancy, the most facile pen, would fail to picture or portray, in their endless variety, the experiences which have thus stamped out the last embers of faith in many a crushed and desolated heart. "There are times," as a Christian writer puts it, "when the heaven that is over our heads seems to be brass, and the earth that is under us to be iron, and we feel our hearts sink within us under the calm pressure of unyielding and unsympathising law." How true the statement, but how inadequate! If it were merely on behalf of this or that individual that God failed to interfere, or on one occasion or another, belief in His infinite wisdom and goodness ought to check our murmurs and soothe our fears. And, further, if, as in the days of the patriarchs, even a whole generation passed away without His once declaring Himself, faith might glance back, and hope look forward, amidst heart searchings for the cause of His silence. But what confronts us is the fact, explain it as we may, that for eighteen centuries the world has never witnessed a public manifestation of His presence or His power.
"Doth God know?" At first the thought comes up as an impatient yet not irreverent appeal. But presently the words are formed upon the lip to imply a challenge and suggest a doubt; and at last they are boldly uttered as the avowal of a settled unbelief. And then the sacred records which awed and charmed the mind in childhood, telling of "mighty acts" of Divine intervention "in the old time," begin to lose their vividness and force, till at last they sink to the level of Hebrew legends and old-world myths. In presence of the stern and dismal facts of life, the faith of earlier days gives way, for surely a God who is entirely passive and always unavailable is for all practical purposes non-existent.
WHEN we turn to Holy Writ this mystery of a silent Heaven,
which is driving so many to infidelity, if not to atheism, seems to become more
utterly insoluble. The life and teaching of the great Prophet of Nazareth have
claimed the admiration of multitudes, even of those who have denied to Him the
deeper homage of their faith. All generous minds acclaim Him as the noblest
figure that has ever passed across the stage of human life. But Christianity
claims for Him infinitely more than this. The great and unknown God had dwelt
in impenetrable darkness and unapproachable light - seeming contradictories
which harmonise in fact in a perfect representation of His attitude toward men.
But now He at last declared Himself. The Nazarene was not merely the pattern
man of all the ages, He was Himself Divine, "God manifest in the flesh." The
inspired prophets had foreshadowed this: now it was accomplished. The dream of
heathen mythology was realised in the great foundation fact of Christianity -
God assumed the form of a man and dwelt as a man among men, speaking words such
as mere man never spoke, and scattering on every hand the proofs of His Divine
character and mission.
But the sphere of the display was confined to the narrowest limits - the towns and villages of a district Scarcely larger than an English county. If this was to be the end of it, a theory so sublime must be exploded by its inherent incredibility. But throughout His ministry He spoke of a mysterious death He had to suffer, and of His rising from the dead and returning to the heaven from which He had come down, and of triumphs of His power to follow upon that ascension - triumphs such as they to whom He spoke were then incapable of understanding. And, in keeping with the hopes He thus inspired, among His latest utterances, spoken after His resurrection and in view of His ascension, we find these sublime and pregnant words-"All power is given unto Me in heaven and on earth." The position of avowed unbelief here is perfectly intelligible; but what can be said for the covert scepticism of modern Christianity which explains this to mean nothing more than the assertion of a mystical authority to send out preachers of the gospel!
Accept the scheme of revelation as to man's apostasy and fall, and his consequent alienation from God, and the history of the world down to the time of Christ can be explained. But type and promise and prophecy testified with united voice that the advent of Messiah should be the dawn of a brighter day, when "the heavens should rule," when all wrong should be redressed, and sorrow and discord should give place to gladness and peace. The angelic host who heralded His birth confirmed the testimony, and seemed to point to its near fulfilment. And these words of Christ Himself ring out like a proclamation that earth's great jubilee at last was come. Nor did the events of the early days which followed belie the hope.
If because of a great public miracle wrought by them in His name the apostles were threatened with penalties, they appealed from men to God, and then and there God gave public proof that He heard their prayer, for "the place was shaken where they were. Sudden judgment fell upon Ananias and Sapphira when they sinned, and as a consequence "great fear came upon all." a "By the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people." From the surrounding villages "the multitude "-that is the inhabitants en masse -gathered to Jerusalem carrying their sick, and they were healed every one." And when their exasperated enemies seized the apostles and thrust them into the common prison, "the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors and brought them forth." At this very period it was, no doubt, that the martyr Stephen fell. Yes, but ere he sank beneath the blows showered upon him by his fierce murderers, the heavens were opened, and revealed to him a vision of his Lord in glory. If martyrdom brought such visions now, who would shrink from being a martyr! By a like vision the most prominent witness to his death became changed into an apostle of the faith he had resisted and blasphemed. And when he in his turn, found himself in the grasp of cruel enemies at Philippi, his midnight prayer was answered by an earthquake which shook the foundations of his prison. Unseen hands struck off the chains which bound him, freed his feet from the stocks in which they had been made fast, and threw the gaol doors open.
The Apostle Peter, too, had experienced a like deliverance when held a prisoner by Herod at Jerusalem, and this on the very eve of the day appointed for his death. The record is definite and thrilling. "Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and the keepers before the door kept the prison, and behold the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison; and he smote Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands." "The iron gate" of the prison "opened to them of its own accord," and together they passed into the Street.
These are but gleanings from the narrative of the opening chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. Divine intervention was no mystic theory with these men. "All power in heaven and on earth" was no mere shibboleth. The story of the infant Church, like the early history of the Hebrew nation, was an unbroken record of miracles. But there the parallel ends. Under the old economy the cessation of Divine intervention in human affairs was regarded as abnormal, and the fact was explained by national apostasy and sin. And the times of national apostasy were precisely the period of the prophetic dispensation. Then it was that the Divine voice was heard with increasing clearness. But in contrast with this, Heaven has now been dumb for eighteen long centuries. This fact, moreover, might seem less strange if prophecy had ceased with Malachi, and miracles had not been renewed in Messianic times. But though miraculous powers and prophetic gifts abounded in the Pentecostal Church, yet when the testimony passed out from the narrow sphere ofo Judaism, and was confronted by the philosophy and civilisation of the heathen world - at the very time in fact when, according to accepted theories, their voice was specially required - that voice died away for ever.
Is there nothing here to excite our wonder? Some of course will dispose of the matter by rejecting every record of miracles, whether in Old Testament times or New, as mere legend or fable. Others again will protest that miracles are actually wrought today at certain favoured shrines. But here in Britain, at least, most men are neither superstitious nor infidel. They believe the Biblical record of miracles in the past, and they assent to the fact that ever since the days of the apostles the silence of Heaven has been unbroken. Yet when challenged to account for this, they are either wholly dumb or else they offer explanations which are utterly inadequate, if not absolutely untrue.
To plead that the idea of Divine intervention in human affairs is unreasonable or absurd is only to afford a proof how easily the mind becomes enslaved by the ordinary facts of experience.
The believer recognises that such intervention was common in ancient times, and the unbeliever most fairly argues that if there really existed a God, all-good and almighty, such intervention would be common at all times. The taunt would be easily met if the Christian could make answer that this world is a scene of probation where God in His infinite wisdom has thought fit to leave men absolutely to themselves. But in presence of an open Bible such an answer is impossible. The mystery remains that "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers," never speaks to His people now! The Divine history of the favoured race for thousands of years teems with miracles by which God gave proof of His power with men, and yet we are confronted by the astounding fact that from the days of the apostles to the present hour the history of Christendom will be searched in vain for the record of a single public event to compel belief that there is a God at all!
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