Friday, June 5, 2009

Coming Out of the Silent Planet

Occasionally, I read a book that really has an impact on me. Something in the black words on the white pages brings color to my life. The color may be vibrant and hit me like a brilliant sunrise, or subtle like the shades of a multi-hued rose. Either way, my thoughts continue to linger on the insights to which the author has led me. Surprisingly, I have had such an experience with C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet. Not being a fan of science fiction, I was ready to quickly dismiss the book as a flight of fancy with religious and sociological undertones. And yet more than two weeks later, I still reflect on the title of the book itself and what it means…especially to me.

In this first book of Lewis’ space trilogy, the protagonist, Elwin Ransom, has been kidnapped and taken to Mars. After a time, he is summoned by the guardian angel of the planet Mars—or the Oyarsa, who is described as barely perceptible light in motion. From the Oyarsa, Ransom learns much about the spiritual structure of the universe: about spiritual hierarchies, about the pervasiveness of spirit life throughout the heavens (which, he discovers, is the proper name for what we call “outer space”), and about a war in heaven in which the guardian angel of our planet rebelled against the Old One (God), was defeated, and was hurled back to Earth. After that occurred, Earth was called the “silent planet” because it was fallen, out of touch and communication with God and the rest of the universe. From Ransom, the Oyarsa learns the strange story of how the Old One sent his son, Maleldil (Christ), to the Silent Planet, to renew his communication with it.

This fictional story parallels the scriptural accounts of the war in heaven where Satan rebelled and took a third of the hosts of heaven with him. Satan becomes the “ruler of this world,” and eventually tempts Eve to eat of fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This in turn leads to the Fall of man, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and removal from the continual presence of God.

Experiencing Silence Today

In Out of the Silent Planet, Earth became silent because the evil guardian angel and his world were banished by God and, therefore, there was no further communication with the guardian angels of all the other planets in our solar system. The part Satan played in the silence is what has stuck with me.

Today, Satan is still responsible for the silence we experience in our efforts to connect with Heavenly Father, his Son, and the Holy Ghost. Satan tries to convince man that God is dead or that He no longer communicates with us like he did with people in biblical times. President Spencer W. Kimball of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commented in his book Faith Precedes the Miracle:

“Someone has said that we live in a day in which God, if there be a God, chooses to be silent, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims to the world that neither the Father nor the Son is silent. They are vocal and commune as proper and necessary, and constantly express a willingness, indeed an eagerness, to maintain communication with men.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said at April 2008 LDS General Conference:

“We believe in a God who is engaged in our lives, who is not silent, not absent, nor, as Elijah said of the god of the priests of Baal, is He ‘[on] a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be [awakened].’ (1 Kings 18:27) In this Church, even our young Primary children recite, ‘We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God’ (Article of Faith 1:9).”

Breaking the Silence through Prayer

So, if God and Christ are not silent, why does it seem there is so much silence in the world today? Since it takes at least two to communicate, it stands to reason that the silence must originate with man.

Men and women of all faiths have the desire to speak with their God. As Christians, we have been counseled to “pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17), “watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation” (Matthew 26:41), and “when ye pray, believe that ye [will] receive” (Mark 11:24).

But here again, Satan enters the picture. One of his goals is to interfere with prayer and answers to prayer. In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, a senior devil (Screwtape) writes a series of letters in which he instructs a junior devil (his nephew Wormwood) in the art of temptation. His advice includes:
  • The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep [man] from the serious intention of praying altogether.
  • At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.
  • The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. …The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.
It is critical that we remember to “pray always” (Luke 21:36), even when we don’t feel like it because this is when we most need to break through the silence and communicate with God. We must remember that Heavenly Father hears our prayers. He may not always answer as we expect or want, but He does answer—in His own time and according to his will. As Elder Richard G. Scott of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in a November 1989 Ensign article,

“Communication with our Father in Heaven is not a trivial matter. It is a sacred privilege. It is based upon unchanging principles. When we receive help from our Father in Heaven, it is in response to faith, obedience, and the proper use of agency. It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately. Some prayers require considerable effort on our part.”

Heavenly Father knows what is best for us, so there are times when His answer is “no,” even when our petitions are sincere. Elder Scott goes on to explain:

“He loves us beyond our capacity to understand. He knows what is best for us. He sees the end from the beginning. He wants us to act to gain needed experience: When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence. When He answers no, it is to prevent error. When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth. We are expected to assume accountability by acting on a decision that is consistent with His teachings without prior confirmation. We are not to sit passively waiting or to murmur because the Lord has not spoken. We are to act.”

Take Advantage of the Temporary Silence

And what actions can we take?
  1. Look at silence as an opportunity for self-evaluation. Have we done all we can to study the situation in our own minds? Have we turned to the scriptures for inspiration? Are there things in our lives that need correcting so the Spirit can be more powerful in the communication process? Are there other things we should be doing that currently we’re not?
  2. Know that silence is not absence. We must have faith unwavering. Just because we have not received an answer does not mean that Heavenly Father is ignoring us. He is watching over us continually and wants us to succeed. We must not become discouraged if the answer takes a while. (Remember that discouragement and despair are tools used by Satan to interfere with our communication with God.)
  3. Acknowledge that silence doesn’t mean nothing is happening. There are times and instances when solitude is necessary for us to grow personally, to prepare ourselves to act on the answer we will receive. There is wisdom in quiet contemplation. We need to learn to listen and recognize how answers come to us individually.
Elder David A. Bednar of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in his April 2008 LDS General Conference talk:

"Prayer is a privilege and the soul’s sincere desire. We can move beyond routine and 'checklist' prayers and engage in meaningful prayer as we appropriately ask in faith and act, as we patiently persevere through the trial of our faith, and as we humbly acknowledge and accept 'not my will, but Thine, be done.'"

Silent No More

God, our Heavenly Father, loves us and is anxious to communicate with us. He is not silent. He wants to develop a loving relationship with us. If we are experiencing silence, it is because we have succumbed to Satan’s influence (however slight). We are responsible for the silence. We must take the actions necessary to learn how to pray effectively and recognize when God speaks to us. Through this process, we will banish the silence and truly become his son or daughter.

It is within our power to come out of the silent planet.

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