It happened again this week. A controversy has captured the attention of a nation, accusations have been thrown from one side to another, and back again. In the midst of this have come the demands that everyone speaks out in favor of whatever position a person is supporting; we are warned that if we remain silent it automatically voices agreement with the adversaries. Several weeks ago it was Charlottesville, this week it’s the NFL, and who knows what next’s week outcry will be. While the issues being raised are important and I have my thoughts (informed by Scripture), sometimes I have chosen to share those and sometimes I have chosen not to. And that’s the point; sometimes there is not a necessity for every person to comment on every outrage.
With social media being our primary form of communication (and argument and protest) these days, there exists an illusion that every wrongdoing must be shared with the world and the world must respond. Combine this with the temptation to respond because of the fact that social media invites judgment and we have a system that is nothing more than a rapid-fire response that often reacts with a lack of both discernment and understanding. The result is a structure that dictates that people respond, how they respond when they respond, and in what manner they should respond. Sometimes though, silence can be OK.
Scripture is not silent on the topic of silence. At various times the Bible lauds the virtues of silence and exhorts people to be discerning when it comes to their investment of words and silence. Looking at three passages, we see the following guidelines:
- Discern: When to Respond (Ecclesiastes 3:7): In Ecclesiastes, we are told there is a time for silence and a time to speak. Each is appropriated according to the right time, thus indicating that sometimes it’s appropriate to speak and other times it is appropriate to remain silent. Therefore, there is a necessity to be discerning about when we respond (which is further complicated when that response is supposed to be public or private, and social media is always public, even if you are just ‘sharing with friends.’).
- Discern: How to Respond (James 1:19): Not only is it important to know when to respond but how to respond. James tells his listeners that to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. An implied concept here is listening more than you speak. Because of technology we are prone to react quickly before giving due consideration or gathering facts. However, just because we can respond quickly, doesn’t mean we always should. Certain situations necessitate that we listen and not speak.
- Discern: What to Respond (Proverbs 17:27-28): Finally, we are told in Proverbs 17:27-28, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge; and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” In conjunction with Paul’s writings in Ephesians 4:29 to not let unwholesome talk come out of one’s mouth, there comes an understanding that we must be discerning with the words we use.
Therefore, sometimes silence is more virtuous than speaking.
Every cultural crisis comes with a group of people who are outraged that others aren’t responding to the initial outrage of the crisis. However, a response to every situation by every person is not, and should not, always be necessary. In fact, sometimes silence is necessary. Sometimes silence is better. Sometimes silence is a virtue.