Those questions were pondered by Columbia International University professor Dr. David Olshine leading him to write the new book, “The Mystery of Silence,” published by Core Media Group. Through the book Dr. Olshine takes us not only into his own world, but also offers examples to help others discover what silence means and how to handle the noises all around us.
Dr. Olshine is lead professor of Youth Ministry, Family & Culture at CIU, a veteran youth worker, a communicator to over 2.5 million people, and the author of 16 books. He is also the founder of Youth Ministry Coaches, a consulting business to help churches find and keep youth workers.
He discusses “The Mystery of Silence” in this Q&A:
You are mostly known for your work in Youth Ministry, so what led you to write on the topic of “The Mystery of Silence?”
I wrote this book during the pandemic, beginning in March 2020 as my own personal journal, not for an article nor a book. Around the second week of March, CIU was cancelled from meeting residentially, and everything went virtual. Almost every church service closed down. We began using phrases like “social distancing,” and “a new normal’’ and “put on your masks” and “let’s connect by ZOOM.”
I had a lot of time to think, and as I reflected on the coronavirus, and looking back over my life how many times I felt like God had been quiet. I did not intend to write a book on God’s silence, but the more I thought about the pandemic, it was obvious that I was listening to so many voices about COVID that God’s voice seemed to be drowned out by the media. I felt socially distant from God.
So, during COVID, I began going out on my deck for 30 minutes a day, in silence, and it had profound impact on my life. The Scriptures speak of the disciplines of silence and solitude as a means of connecting to God. Most of us have waited on God for some prayer to be answered, only to feel His silence. Sometimes it’s answered with a “yes,” sometimes a “no.” Many times it is wait. It is those in-between times that makes the Christian life really hard.
How does your experience with your son Andrew fit into The Mystery of Silence?
My wife Rhonda and I went for 15 years of wanting a second child and we were diagnosed with secondary infertility. During that time God seemed very quiet. Our primary prayer was to get pregnant and it wasn’t happening so we went through the medical route and we were told that we probably would not get pregnant again. We struggled with hope, doubt, stress and grief and that all taught us lessons about learning to lean into God even when he was quiet.
When Andrew surprisingly came onto the scene it was actually a blessing, although it felt like a curse that same day. As the old adage states, “It was the best of times and of worst of times.” We did not expect to have a child with special needs, and I had not heard much about kids with Down syndrome. We had desired the “Gerber baby” and yet the package and gift was different. It felt like God was toying with us, and like a punch to the gut. Andrew has ended up teaching me more than I will ever teach him! He is a gift to us.
How have you personally made sense of life when it seems God is absent? / What specific sort of actions have you taken, or what kind of prayers have your prayed?
Silence can be a gift from God. It draws us in. It creates a hunger and thirst for more of God, for more insight and knowledge and wisdom.
Prayer is relational. At the heart of prayer, we tend to think the purpose is getting an answer of yes or no, but it’s really not about that outcome. The purpose of prayer is God, being with God, being fully present. That is, it. Being with Jesus.
Where we get into theological trouble is when we start demanding God to do things our way. And that is why mystery is so important. We have to allow ambiguity to be part of the core of the faith. Ambiguity is defined as the “uncertainty of meaning or intention.’’ We want to “box” Jesus into our ways of thinking and understanding, and when we do that, Jesus will jump out of the box every time!
We want everything neatly tied up in a nice little packaged box with a bow on it, but some things cannot be figured out or explained. That is why silence and the mystery of silence is so vital to welcome as a part of the journey. Plus, it will help you handle discouragement when things don’t go your way. Rather than blame God for the mess, why not chalk it up to mystery? Embrace mystery.
What are some recommended Bible passages to meditate on when God seems absent or silent?
Start with the Psalms, especially Psalm 46, Psalm 60, 62. The mystics and desert fathers always went first to the Psalms. Psalms chapters 40-65 deals frequently with King David wanting to connect with God, yet feeling like God was absent. The Psalter offers great comfort in the midst of storms. You see David wrestling and thrashing with God. You see the humanness of King David. He shares struggles that we can all relate to. We all want to connect with God, and we all feel at times God is absent. He is present. We like Jacob can say “Surely the presence of God was here and I was unaware of it.” I believe the more we learn to get more silent in our lives, the greater the chances of hearing God’s voice.
If you had to stress one aspect of your book to someone struggling with “The Mystery of Silence,” what would it be?
Without giving the final theme of the book, I think the point is mystery is to be embraced; silence is to be celebrated and not just tolerated. We can meet God in the silence. Mystery is biblical. Silence is biblical. I heard a commencement speaker once say, “As you get older, it’s okay to become more comfortable with mystery over predictability.”
Why cannot we just allow mystery to be just that — a mystery? Allow uncertainty and mystery draw you into God’s presence. If everything about God can be explained, then we have made God too small.
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