May 2, 2014 - Silence in Heaven
By George P. Wood
In Revelation 8:1-5 John returns to the opening of the seventh and final seal. After all the noise of the previous two chapters — the clattering hoofbeats of the four horses, the loud prayers of the martyrs, the anxious cries of the great ones of the earth, the raucous praise of the heavenly hosts — we are primed to expect something spectacularly loud. What John hears is, well, nothing.
"When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour" (Revelation 8:1, NIV).
I wonder if it was an uncomfortable silence for John, like the silence at a grade school play when one of the students forgets his lines. It is often difficult for us to sit still when we expect something but hear nothing. As a pastor, I have sometimes wanted to surprise an unsuspecting congregation with my silence. Christians are so geared to progressing through the Sunday order of worship with nary an uncomfortable pause. It would be interesting to make them sit and wonder what would happen next.
More than that, it would be instructive. If we truly believe God is present with us when we gather for worship, could we take 30 minutes of silent time to listen for His voice, or would we be too busy waiting for the preacher to get up and say something to relieve our tension?
The heavenly silence John describes is not, of course, a dropped line in the heavenly drama. It is a pregnant pause, an opportunity to wait on God. It is, in fact, the time that lapses between our prayers and God's answer. John describes an angel who stands at the altar with a golden censer offering its incense with "the prayers of all the saints" (Revelation 8:3).
We saints are not patient people. The martyred souls under heaven's altar cried out, "How long?" (Revelation 6:10). We American Christians especially — pampered as we are by microwave ovens, cable modems, and one-hour dry cleaners — cannot stand to wait for God's reply to our prayers. If we had to wait half an hour for our food to come to us, we would complain about the restaurant's lousy service.
And that, I think, is one of the reasons God inserts the half hour of silence in the opening of the seven seals. In a restaurant, the customer may be king. In heaven, God is, and He does things His own way, at His own pace. Our consumer culture has taught us we are the center of the universe and that the service industry exists to satisfy our whims. The seventh seal forces us to realize God is the center of the universe and we exist to do His will.
Only when we have learned this lesson does God answer our prayers. After the silence of heaven has passed, "the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake" (Revelation 8:5). Not to mention seven trumpets (Revelation 8:6 through 11:19).
God's answer may come slowly, but it is never late. Are we humble and patient enough to hear it?
— George Paul Wood is director of Ministerial Resourcing for the Assemblies of God and author of The Daily Word online devotionals.