Silence: Golden or Fool’s Gold?


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 19; 150, 2 Samuel 17:1-23, Galatians 3:6-14, John 5:30-47

The phrase “silence speaks volumes” can have different meanings. There’s an active silence when we refuse to speak, leaving others to draw their own conclusions. Ask a child, “Are those your crayon drawings all over the wall?” and silence probably answers the question for you. This silence gives us a slight sense of control when speaking would be difficult.

Then there’s a passive silence, like when we hear gossip among friends, or racist remarks in the cafeteria. In that silence we relinquish control, and those who hear it – or rather, don’t hear it – are more free to interpret it as they will. Declining to participate may send a message that we don’t agree or approve, but it is just as likely (and arguably more so)  to be heard as indifference, assent, agreement, or possibly fear.

As far as we know, David’s trusted counselor Ahithophel kept his silence after David arranged for the death of Uriah so he might marry Uriah’s wife Bathsheba – who was Ahithophel’s granddaughter. (Yes, the book of Samuel should come with a scorecard.) Perhaps this is why, when David’s son Absalom took his father’s throne, Ahithophel so easily swapped allegiances and began to counsel Absalom. It’s not hard to imagine David never saw this betrayal coming.

Whether it’s in business meetings, friendly conversation, or important debates, we should be careful not to make assumptions about people’s silence. Doing so can lead to serious miscalculations. We should also be careful about our own silence, because people will fill in the blanks for us. We don’t need to weigh in with an opinion on everything (Proverbs tells us “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue”), but there are times when an assumption of agreement or neutrality is dangerous. Consider this quote from writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:

Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.
Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

There is no such thing as “no news”; there is what people hear, and what they assume. Let’s be wise using both our words and our silence.

Additional Reading:
For thoughts on today’s reading from John, see Two Point Perspective.

Comfort: Your words can affect the world for the better. 

Challenge: Pray about when to speak and when to keep silent.

Prayer: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Discussion: When do you feel most free to speak up? When do you feel least able?

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