When God is silent: Workplace confessions

Presence and identity affect our relationship with God more than we realize. We often fail to see how God’s steadfast presence changes our day-to-day working lives. And rather than success, fame, or fortune, what does it look like to find our deepest working identity in God and God alone?

More than 1,600 years ago, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote one of the most famous pieces of literature in the history of the Christian faith, The Confessions. In those hallowed pages, Augustine reflects on the intimate presence and persistent work of God in his life with a raw vulnerability and a unique authenticity. Augustine struggles with the universal questions of ambition and competition, gifts and calling, money and power, sex and seduction, meaning and purpose, and the simultaneous feelings of love for God and confusion at God’s work in his life. What do 21st century professionals have to learn from a fourth century African saint?

God’s presence in all of life

Bend down to my soul’s ear, O Lord; open it, and tell my soul: I am your salvation. I shall run after your voice, and catch you. Do not hide your face from me. Let me die to see it; for if I do not see it, I shall die.[1]

Where is God in all of this? Christian professionals who work in a fast, secular, and globalizing marketplace often struggle with a sense of God’s presence, involvement, and relevance in their daily lives. God seems distant, Sunday’s worship feels remote on Monday, and work rolls on with a machine-like inevitability. The miraculous, profound, and spiritual feels removed from our present reality.

On the first page of his Confessions, Augustine famously declares to God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Augustine argues that human beings ultimately long to know and be known by God. It is that critical gap between us and God that causes our restlessness and angst. God designed us for intimacy with the himself, our ultimate “Sweetness,” as Augustine calls God.

While many historians declare Augustine a saint, we read in the opening pages of Confessions that he struggles, like all of us, with the fear that God is silent and even absent from the mundane, daily activities of our work and life. In this (perceived) divine absence, Augustine confesses that he begins to wither. This feeling of divine absence is common. Augustine’s response to it, however, is rather uncommon. He fights back. He refuses to accept this perceived silence. Instead, Augustine implores God to draw near and pleads with God to reveal himself. Augustine acknowledges God is indeed present and speaking, but his own ears closed themselves to his voice. And so he pleads, “Bend down to my soul’s ear, O Lord; open it, and tell my soul: I am your salvation.”

Responding to God’s perceived silence

Throughout the first book of his Confessions, Augustine models for us a life that longs for intimacy with God — intimacy not simply in his private life, but in every aspect of his public life as well. Augustine pleads and demands that God make his voice heard. He confesses that he has grown deaf to God’s voice and that he stands in need of a “divine ear-cleaning.”

These confessions lead me to ask myself a number of questions about God’s presence and voice in my own working life. First, how do I respond when it feels like God is far off from my day-to-day tasks? Do I shrug my shoulders and try to move on without God’s presence and guidance? Do I accept that I am my own god? Or, do I engage God in a struggle, in a fight? Do I ask — no — do I demand that God make himself known in my workplace? Do I confess my deep need for his voice? Can I say the following prayer with Augustine? “Do not hide your face from me. Let me die to see it; for if I do not see it, I shall die.” How, in the end, will I respond to these moments of perceived silence and absence?

[1] Confessions, Section 1.5.5

Topics: Christian Life, Work and Discipleship, Work and the Bible

About the Author

Matthew Kaemingk serves Fuller Theological Seminary as an assistant professor of Christian Ethics and associate dean in Houston, Texas.  He is also a senior fellow for the Max De Pree Center for Christian Leadership. Kaemingk's research, writing, and teaching focuses on the topics of faith and work, public theology, theology and culture, and marketplace ethics. He is currently cowriting a book on the connections between work and worship, liturgy, and labor with Baker Academic. He is also the author of Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear (Eerdmans, 2018).