If you've been an alive Christian (which should be a tautology) for more than five years, you've already had the heartbreak. If you've been a faithful pastor, you've had it many times. Goes like this:
You tell an unbeliever of Christ, giving it your faithful and loving best. Or you warn a professed believer of some dreadfully foolish or sinful path he's taking. In both cases, you tell him something from the Word of God — that Word that (we are told) is powerful: living, active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12).
And what happens?
Nothing, or worse. He shrugs it off, she makes lame excuses. There is no sign of impact, whatever. You might as well have been throwing cotton balls at a charging elephant. Throwing, and missing, as a matter of fact.
Inwardly, you think you really messed up. Deeply inwardly, where no one can see, you think that you dare to wish that the "powerful" Word looked... well... a little more powerful. You wish that it showed a little more power. But for effect, it might as well have been a fortune cookie you were reading — not the Word of the mighty King of all kings.
So consider Jeremiah 36, one of the most strikingly vivid narratives in the Word. Yahweh directs Jeremiah to put all his prophecies into writing (v. 2). The prophet does so, and directs Baruch to read them at the Temple. They do cause a stir and a reaction — but not the appropriate response (cf. vv. 7 and 24). Nonetheless, word reaches wicked King Jehoiakim, who has the scroll fetched for a private reading.
Now, think of it: this is the very Word of God. There is no issue of transcriptional variations, there is no question of translation. These are the ipsissima verba Dei. One pictures the text crackling with Divine power, like static electricity before a lightning bolt strikes.
But does the bolt strike? How does the king respond to the words of the King?
Well, it's a cold day, with a nice little fire going in the brazier (v. 22). Fires need fuel. The king decides he's found a fit use for the Word: not food to warm his heart, but food to feed the flames. Strip by strip, as Jehudi reads, the king slices off the despised Word, and throws it to the fire (v. 23).
How could Jehoiakim do that? How could Yahweh let him do it?
Such is our frightful freedom, our dreadful liberty, that we can shrug off pleas and warnings of the Sovereign of the Universe.
And all the while, Yahweh sat apparently idle. He did nothing, and nothing happened. Not immediately.
But then, when Jehoiakim was done, Yahweh announced in effect, "Was that fun? Terrific. Now here's the bill (vv. 29-31)."
Yahweh directed Jeremiah to rewrite the prophecies — and "many similar words were added to them" (v. 32). I'll go out on a limb here and say that I don't think they were "happy words." They weren't about the king's best life, now; they were about his date with justice, soon (vv. 30-31). The evil monarch's rejection did not cause the words of God to disappear, nor did it nullify God's judgment. On the contrary, by his refusal, Jehoiakim assured that judgment.
And so it is with us, with our hearers — and with our readers. Not all slice away unwelcome revelation with a pen-knife (though some do the literal equivalent). No, they use a keyboard. They use wit, sneers, storming off, sniffing off, various forms of "never laid a glove on me."
But He who sits in the Heavens knows, He sees. It counts. What you heard, what our hearers heard — it counts.
The silence we hear is deceptive, when we do not see it through the spectacles of God's Word.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;Consider in closing this word of testimony from Augustine's Confessions (Book Two, Chapter 3):
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you
and lay the charge before you.
Woe is me! Do I dare affirm that thou didst hold thy peace, O my God, while I wandered farther away from thee? Didst thou really then hold thy peace? Then whose words were they but thine which by my mother, thy faithful handmaid, thou didst pour into my ears? None of them, however, sank into my heart to make me do anything. She deplored and, as I remember, warned me privately with great solicitude, "not to commit fornication; but above all things never to defile another man's wife." These appeared to me but womanish counsels, which I would have blushed to obey. Yet they were from thee, and I knew it not. I thought that thou wast silent and that it was only she who spoke. Yet it was through her that thou didst not keep silence toward me; and in rejecting her counsel I was rejecting thee--I, her son, "the son of thy handmaid, thy servant."If it is God's Word — He is speaking. He has spoken. He has spoken to you, and to me.