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When Silence Is Sacred

Tuesday, July 09, 2024 @ 09:40 AM When Silence Is Sacred Shelby Peck Stand Intern MORE

Although Benjamin Franklin was a political mastermind and an exceptionally innovative engineer, he was also at some point a teenager. And like any good teenage boy, Franklin endeavored to agitate his older brother.

Adopting the persona of a middle-aged widow named Silence Dogood, Franklin secretly published a series of treatises in his brother’s newspaper, the New-England Courant. Dogood quickly became a Boston celebrity, enamoring readers with her witty satire and even earning a few marriage proposals from infatuated readers.

After an in-depth search for the elusive Dogood, Franklin revealed his handiwork, much to his older brother’s chagrin. The fallout from the revelation greatly strained the brothers’ relationship, leading Franklin to leave Boston and establish his own press in Philadelphia.

It is believed Franklin crafted the name Silence Dogood as an homage to a previous colonial publication, the Spectator, and well-known preacher Cotton Mather. Ironically, Silence Dogood was anything but silent. Under the heavy veil of satire, Franklin discussed religion, politics, fashion, and even lofty Harvard from the perspective of a middle-aged colonial woman.

Although Silence Dogood wrote in stark contrast to her name, the phrase brings a certain question to mind: Are there times when silence indeed does good?

Throughout the Bible, believers are continually called to speak up for the oppressed. Amos is an entire book on justice. Proverbs 31:8-9 says,

Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.

Esther revealed a plot to kill the Jews. Moses boldly confronted Pharaoh.

Yet, in the midst of stories such as these, we also find moments where God’s people chose not to say anything at all, and their silence is still portrayed as faithful.

How can we discern when silence is sacred?

Slow to speak

The tongue is one of our most powerful and destructive weapons. James admonishes believers the tongue is like a wildfire (James 3:6), stoked by hell, defiling the body, and derailing our lives. The warning is harsh, but with our tongues we can lie, discourage, harm, and destroy those around us. With our tongues, we can destroy ourselves.

James 1:19-20 says, This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”

Silence can often be a key tool for salvaging relationships. If all our flesh permits us to say comes from a place of unrighteous anger, silence is the better option. Silence gives us space to reframe our conflicts, breathe in the peace of God, and respond with grace.

Silence also gives us room to discern the will of God and listen for where and to whom He is calling us. Silence helps us abandon the timetable of our selfish desires and exchange it for God’s perfect timing.

In Isaiah 42:14, God tells the people of Israel, “I have kept silent for a long time, I have kept still and restrained Myself. Now like a woman in labor I will groan, I will both gasp and pant.”

How often do we find ourselves frustrated by God’s silence, when in reality we are frustrated by God’s timing? When we feel He’s not answering our cries, as the Israelites did countless times throughout history, we miss the work He is doing in our hearts to prepare us for the plan and perfect timing He has in store.  

Through God’s silence, we learn faith. Through our silence, we learn patience. 

Weep with those who weep

Not only does silence grow patience, but it also allows us to compassionately and empathetically care for loved ones experiencing tremendous suffering.

As Paul reminds the church in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

When we walk alongside those undergoing loss, we often try to impart our own wisdom (usually combining old adages with Romans 8:28). Overlooking grief, especially in its early stages, discourages the person we are trying to help.

Even more harmful, we may try to rationalize suffering or contrive the perfect explanation for what our loved one is undergoing. In the book of Job, when Job undergoes some of the worst suffering known to man, his friends foolishly pour mounds of their advice and admonishment on him, leading to further desperation and sorrow.

Jesus wept (John 11:35). He sympathizes with us in our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). Silence allows us to sit with our loved ones in their sorrow, pointing them to a rock and refuge that is higher and stronger than anything we could ever possibly find on earth. Silence allows God to draw near to the brokenhearted and transform hearts in the way only He can.

Our perfect example

The ultimate example of sacred silence is found in Jesus, the suffering servant.

As prophesied in Isaiah 53:7,

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.

Throughout the trials that Jesus underwent on His way to the cross, He was like a lamb. He suffered in silence. He could have summoned the armies of heaven, but He meekly died a brutal and unjust death at the hands of those He came to save.

He did not try to escape conviction (Mark 15:1-5; Luke 23:8-9). He did not attack Peter after being denied three times (Luke 22:61). For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorned its shame, and now sits at the right hand of God (Romans 12:2) until He will return to collect His people.

Jesus actively pursued justice. He defended the needy and the oppressed. He continually shared the Good News and the truth about His Father. But Jesus also sought silence. He drew near to the brokenhearted. He displayed righteous anger. Like a lamb, He willingly died to save us all.

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