“The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence.” (Habakkuk 2.20)
“For everything there is a season…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3.1,7)
Silence is not always relevant. Being quiet in the face of injustice is unrighteous passivity. Recently a brother recalled a story from school. His friend from the neighborhood, a little girl with epilepsy, started to seize in the schoolroom. Jim, always the first responder, knew exactly what to do. The teacher disagreed, but this didn’t stop his plan to rescue her from physical harm and schoolroom shame. Eventually the teacher relented. Thank God for people who move and speak when the time calls for it.
Sometimes there is nothing more relevant than silence. Job had the worst season imaginable in his life. His kids were killed, his livelihood destroyed, and he developed a painful skin disease. Then his wife turned on him. When his friends heard about everything that happened to him, they showed up, “raised their voices and wept…and sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (Job 2) There are times when silence is more profound than speech. That is relevant silence.
These are loud days. Televisions are on in every room, and there are devices in the hands of each person. Everything and everyone and every moment is “on.” It seems there are only a few unspoken thoughts. Even though I was born in San Pedro, I grew up in Minnesota. It was required that every conversation needed to start with a discussion about “the weather.” Now every conversation everywhere needs to start with a discussion about COVID-19. The only thing that can distract us from the virus is the upcoming elections.
One of my favorite churches in the world is Bethlehem Church just outside central Copenhagen, Denmark. Bethlehem has strong pastoral leadership but not the kind that stands in the way of the whole people of God joining in. The church building has a small footprint but soaring rafters. The people fill both spaces. I asked the old priest, Ole Skjerbæk Madsen, about this dynamic. He said during most of the year, the congregation is encouraged to pray out loud for real things in their and others’ lives. They are more interested in the congregation’s voice than in professional singers. They take time to pray for healing and experience it.
Bethlehem Church is active, but Pastor Ole said their activity looks different during election seasons. They don’t stop praying, but they do stop praying out loud. For the weeks before Election Day, the Church prays for their nation silently. He smirked and said, “During election season, it is nearly impossible for people not to go on a prayer campaign. They aren’t so much bringing their requests before God as they are trying to convince their fellow worshippers of who a true believer would vote for.”
There is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Wise Solomon doesn’t say, “There is a time to pray and a time not to pray.” Look at where we are. Look at the choices before us. Frankly, what is there to say but, “Lord, have mercy,” and then deep, profound and relevant silence. spt