The Sound of Silence

Guest Author: Benjamin Williams

Ceaseless noise and activity fill every facet of our culture. This constant buzz of action can serve as a self-inflicted distraction from our spiritual lives. Finding moments of silence, either for prayer or meditation, allows us to hear and see what is hidden by the frenzied pace of our lives. This discipline of silence, the intentional practice of solitude and reflection, is not a luxury that may be set aside, but rather a life-giving component of our life in Christ. As Kenneth Boa states, “Although many believers, especially extroverts, avoid this primary discipline of faith, the spiritual cost in doing so is great. … In solitude we remove ourselves from the siren calls and illusions of our society and wrestle with the need for ongoing transformation as we meet the Lord.” (Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 86-87).) Likewise, the practical wisdom of Scripture is clear regarding silence. While the Bible lists many sins of the tongue, it has nothing but good to say of silence: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).

To understand the value of practicing intentional silence, we first should look at the nature of our relationship to God and see what lies in the silence.

Knowing God’s Silence

God’s silence is often a frustration to the believer and a stumbling stone for the skeptic. Job, for example, acknowledges that it is God’s voice that sustains the universe. However, Job remains bitter that God seems to have no time to speak to him in his time of grief.

The pillars of heaven tremble and are astounded at his rebuke.

By his power he stilled the sea; by his understanding he shattered Rahab.

By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand? (Job 26:11-14)

Elihu wants to answer Job by saying that God does speak often, but humans simply do not listen or perhaps cannot hear.

Why do you contend against him, saying, ‘He will answer none of man’s words’?

For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it.

In a dream, in a vision of the night …

Man is also rebuked with pain on his bed and with continual strife in his bones, …

If there be for him an angel, a mediator, one of the thousand, to declare to man what is right for him, …

Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, …

Pay attention, O Job, listen to me; be silent, and I will speak.

If you have any words, answer me; speak, for I desire to justify you.

If not, listen to me; be silent, and I will teach you wisdom. (Job 33:13-33)

Elihu might be right about that. However, at the very least we can appreciate that this does not properly resolve our frustration. Suppose for the sake of argument that I have received a vision from God, pain in my bones, and an angel from heaven. If, as Elihu suggests, I do not perceive it – either through mortal dullness or the blindness caused by my sin – then what good did it do me?

Job, for his part, is spoken to by God very directly in the frightening whirlwind of chapter 38-41, the very same appearance that took away his children (Job 1:18-19). But I confess that I have never received the whirlwind’s presence or even Elijah’s “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12, KJV). I do believe God speaks. I believe He speaks in nature, in Scripture, in the wisdom of godly people, and even in corrective experiences. However, Job had access to most of that and still longed for something more. So do I. What should we do with this desire?

What Remains In Silence?

Having therefore seen God’s silence and how it frustrates us, it is difficult then to long for more. If I could promise you that when you are quiet God would fill the silence with his voice, it might be more encouraging to you. However, I can make no such promise. Instead, all I can offer is that the practice of silence helps us to understand better the life of silence in a relationship with God. For the believer who is frustrated by the silence and also for the skeptic who attributes his disbelief to the haunting silence of God, I offer two thoughts from an unlikely source – the Song of Solomon. (For a fuller treatment of this helpful analogy, see Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (Leominster, England: Gracewing, 1996).) In this book describing the nature of intimate love, we learn that silence fuels our most intimate relationships.

First, silence creates desire. In the Song of Solomon, it is repeatedly mentioned that there is a desire to hear the lover’s voice.

O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. (Song 2:14)

However, the silence only heightens that desire.

I slept, but my heart was awake.

A sound! My beloved is knocking.

“Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one” …

I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and gone.

My soul failed me when he spoke.

I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer. …

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him I am sick with love. (Song 5:2-8).

Understanding this, God’s silence could be very intentional. It could be that the knocks at the door – our distant and ultimately dissatisfying glimpses of God in this life – remind us of His presence, while the silence calls us to desire and, therefore, to seek Him more.

Second, silence allows for greater intimacy. Do we not sometimes wish to dwell in silence with those that we love?

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases. (Song 2:7)

This instruction is repeated twice more in the text (3:5; 8:4). There is some intimacy experienced in waiting that is lost elsewhere. There is a sweetness in silent togetherness that transcends speech.

His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases. (Song 8:3-4)

For these reasons, silence should be pursued as a discipline that complements and strengthens other features of the Christian life. Let us learn to love God both in speech and in silence, both in praise and in quiet intimacy.

Benjamin Williams is the minister for the Glenpool Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Astrophysics from the University of Oklahoma and a Master of Divinity from Oklahoma Christian University. He enjoys blogging about apologetics and other things at benpreachin.com

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