When the Editors of Ekklesia Magazine, requested that I write on this topic, I must confess that I first wanted to decline writing on this subject matter. The following were my reasons:
- The subject at first, to me, seemed so vague and abstract.
- In my ministry experience, I had not preached or taught directly on this subject nor had written anything on it.
After pondering on this ‘Herculean task’ as I will call it, I began to see the relevance of this topic with respect to the prevalent circumstances we find ourselves in, in our world today. Virtually everybody and everything seems to be moving on the fast track. There is a lot of hustle and bustle; a lot of noise everywhere especially with the modernization and urbanization drives, prevalent globally. People seem to be so restless and impatient. The world today seems to have built within itself devices against words like WAIT, STOP or BE QUIET. Definitely “Silence” is not a popular subject and that is why I seek in this article to emphasize its relevance in a time that there is so much desire to see its extinction. I will endeavour in this article to attempt to answer the following questions:
- What is silence?
- Is silence a virtue?
- Does silence have some spiritual benefit?
- What role can silence play in benefiting our soul and body?
- Can silence help in solving the problems facing us in this congested word?
- These and other questions I seek to answer in this article.
WHAT IS SILENCE?
According to Encarta Encyclopedia 2004, silence can be defined as;
- Quietness; absence or lack of noise.
- Not speaking; a refusal, failure or inability to speak
- The absence
In the verb transitive it can further be defined as;
- To stop something or somebody making noise.
- To suppress something.
- To end something’s hostile behaviour.
The emphases of the above definitions are all anchored on the absence of noise, completed reduction of the volume of some noise-causing activity with the aim of achieving quietness. Therefore we could summarise all these definitions by saying that, “Silence is the act of being quiet or the act of making others or things quiet.”
The subject, “Silence,” is quite a wide one. In other words, it can be looked at from different perspectives due to the various forms it can take. For example, environmentally, the issue of silence is looked at in the reduction of noise. In urbanised communities, noise pollution is a fundamental matter. Even the government is involved. This they do by formulating policies and regulations that restrict the volume of noise with respect to the kind of area, e.g. industrial, residential, medical etc. Such government policies are made with the aim of achieving a level of quietness relatively. This is just one form of Silence. There are others, but for the essence of this article, I intend to look at the subject majority from the biblical perspective.
What does God say about silence? What do the Scriptures expect it to achieve in our lives personally and generally?
According to the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the King James Version of the Bible, the word, “Silence” occurs 34 times in the entire Bible. It occurs 24 times in the Old Testament and 10 times in the New Testament. In the Greek text the word, “Silence” shares the same roots as the word, “Quietness” (Hesnchazo). This actually means to rest from labour, to be quiet, to live quietly or to refrain from speaking.
Paul in his letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, wrote admonishing that the believers should “study to be quiet” (1 Thessalonians 4:11a) King James Version. Paraphrasing this verse contextually we could say, “Practice silence”.
In I Peter 3:4b, the Apostle Peter through talking with respect to women throws light on this subject. He puts it this way, “… even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” Therefore God highly esteems the act of being silent.
Also in Ecclesiastes 4:6, Solomon the wisest King that reigned in Israel wrote, “Better is a handful with quietness than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit”. This again buttresses Apostle Peter’s view on this subject, that the Lord highly esteems this act. The above Scriptures, therefore, establish that the act of being silent is a virtue to be imbibed, as it adds goodness to the quality of our character.
SILENCE WITH RESPECT TO GOD
Even the Lord Almighty portrayed this virtue in various instances in the Scripture thereby buttressing the importance and relevance of this virtue.
In Isaiah 53:7, when the prophet Isaiah foretold of the type of death Jesus Christ would die said, “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth”. In this account we see the Lord Jesus using the virtue of silence as a tool to enhance His submission to the will of God. Later on in the gospels when in reality Jesus was faced with this experience before the then Roman authority (Pontius Pilate), He remained quiet when He could have defended Himself. He rather chose to be silent so as to portray His submission to God. Silence could make it easier to submit to God’s will for our lives especially with regards to suffering and persecution. Furthermore, Isaiah 59:1, paints a scenario where God is accused of being silent or inactive as regard to the petitions of the Israelites. In the following verse, Isaiah by the Spirit of God explains the reason for God’s silence.
The prophet Isaiah does not mince words, he was clear about the reason for God’s silence. Simply put “your sins” and “your iniquities” have caused His silence. God at certain times in our lives chooses to be quiet when we keep living in sin. He does it to show the sign of His disapproval to our ways. In this case, God uses this virtue to wake up His people unto righteousness. At times complaining and condemning over matters may not necessarily bring the desired changes. So like God, we may need to imbibe the virtue of silence (the withdrawal tactic) to express our disapproval. This therefore rather should serve as an indication of our patience. Revelation. 8:1, states “when He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” In this case, silence is used to establish the seriousness of the message that was about to be released. There was so to say, a pause, so as to ensure the complete concentration of the recipient so as to portray the gravity of the information about to be disseminated. Here the Lord uses this virtue as a means of communication. Even in silence, deep things can be communicated. Now that we have seen how God Himself manifests silence as a virtue, we will now look at several instances in the Bible where God’s people were admonished to inculcate this rare virtue and the lessons we can learn from these instances.
LESSONS ON SILENCE
First of all from the Scriptures, we see silence as a virtue that brings a man to God his creator. Psalm 46:10a, declares “be still and know that I am God …” When we inculcate the habit of being silent in the presence of God we will begin to appreciate the reality of His being. Zephaniah. 1:17 and Hebrews 2:20 further establishes this point. God is the God of order. He is never the initiator of confusion. It is only when our hearts and mind are settled and calm that He feels at ease to relate to us. No wonder He visited the first man and woman, Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening, at the time when things begin to settle down to rest. This is why human meditation is best done in a silent, tranquil and conducive environment. No wonder the Psalmist in Psalms 23:2 states:
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me by the still waters”.
This further buttresses the relevance of silence even to Christian meditation. The effect of meditation in silence before the presence of the Lord is that our souls (mind, will and emotion) get restored and revitalized. This, in essence, goes a long way to even bring health and vitality to our physical bodies. For when it is well with our souls, it will also be well with our health, body wise (Proverbs 17:22, 3 John. 2).
Secondly, from Bible, we learn that in the face of troubles, trials, afflictions and temptation the best attitude to imbibe is that of being quiet. In Exodus 14:13, when the Israelites were faced with a tough situation, with the Red Sea before them as a barrier and the host of the Egyptian army hotly pursuing them, they became sorely afraid and confused. In the midst of this, the Lord instructed them to keep silent and relax. He said in their being still, they would see the salvation of God. Whenever we are faced with problems that seem to want to swallow us up, the best stand to take is just to be still. In II Chronicles 20:17, the Israelites were again admonished to be silent in the face of glaring danger. God is ever faithful. In the words of O’Reilly, “Be silent and safe – silence never betrays you.” In fact according to Isaiah 30:15, quietness or silence is a virtue that yields strength. It is not a sign of weakness as some think.
This leads to the next lesson. At times before evil men and during evil times according to Psalm 37:1-2, and Amos 5:13 we need to be silent. It is not every word that needs a reply. At times before our ‘enemies’, that is those who are not interested in our progress it is best to keep quiet. According to Ecclesiastes 3:7, “… a time to keep silent…” There is a time to keep silent. Maturity is the ability to discern when to speak and when to keep quiet.
Also, when you do not have anything to say it is best to keep quiet. II Samuel 18:18-33 brings this lesson to light. Ahimaaz the son of Zadok had news ready but insisted on meeting King David. At the end, he was humiliated, as he had to be asked to stand aside. Likewise, we ought to learn to keep silent especially when we do not have anything to say. The Scripture warns us that we will be judged for every idle (careless, unproductive, irrelevant) word we speak. We need to learn to study to be quiet. Like Syrus said, “I regret often that I have spoken never that I have been silent.”
Silence can be used in expressing sorrow when we have either wronged God or our fellow man. In the Old Testament when the nation of Israel had sinned and realized their fault, they would put on sack clothes, throw ashes on their heads and maintain a state of mourning by weeping and keeping silent before the Lord. Lamentations 2:10, 3:28-33 shows that. Though now we are in the dispensation of grace we may not necessarily put on sack clothes or put ashes on our head, but the Scripture does instruct us according to II Corinthians 7:8-10 to express sorrow that is godly before our God. At times keeping silent and meek, by not excusing our faults expresses our sorrow and willingness to repent from our evil ways. This hereby hastens our healing and absolute recovery. To further show their remorse, this act of mourning is mostly accompanied with a fast so as to weaken our spirit to be reawakened unto righteousness. Biblical fasting thereby aids us in calming down and building up this virtue called silence.
Finally, silence can often be the best response to other people who are undergoing suffering. In Job 2:11-13, we see the friends of Job keep a state of complete silence for the first seven days of their visit to him. This was a sign of their identification with his sorrows and suffering. The Scriptures admonish us to mourn with them that mourn. At times when others are grieving and sorrowing the best position to take is just keep silent, especially when we seem not to know what to say. A wrong word spoken then could rather increase the problem than alleviating it.
In summary, all that we have been saying is that silence is a virtue and it is divine. The world is eagerly in search of people that have mastered the art of silence. In the very words of Lowell, “Blessed are they who have nothing to say, and who cannot be persuaded to say it.” If the world could slow down and grow quiet it will certainly become a better place. For right from the very beginning, God established a world, serene and quiet. The beauty of the Garden of Eden radiated this glorious virtue. It is time to go and retrace the ancient landmark of silence.
Finally, according to a Latin proverb, “Keep quiet and people will think you are a philosopher.”