Proverbs 27:18 reminds us that “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise. When he closes his lips, he is considered a person of understanding.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that holding one’s tongue makes one wise or that wise people always keep quiet. The most godly men and women in Scripture often had lots to say. But there are times for silence. Even unbelievers who may not have the discernment or desire to control their own tongue recognize the goodness of others choosing to say nothing at times.
I’ve witnessed this powerfully in military death notifications.
When a military unit receives a Red Cross message confirming the death of one of our Soldiers or one of their family members, another assigned Soldier and I put on our dress uniforms and go to the family’s house to gently but clearly break the bad news. I should clarify to say that the other Soldier brings the bad news. As a military Chaplain, I’m there to provide comfort to the family as they may express their desire for such. It’s just too hard – maybe even impossible for the bearer of bad news to then turn and try to offer comfort.
I’ve seen family members quickly turn on the notification officer and scream at them, swing at them and sometimes beat on their chest, cursing at them as if they were the one who had killed their loved one. And how did the notification officer respond? They best ones just take it. They don’t say a word and often even weep, not because they are embarrassed or scared of how the family is responding, but because they feel their pain.
There are no words for times like those. Maybe later, but not now. Now is the time to listen and to wait for God.
When the Shunnamite woman ran to meet the prophet Elisha and God had hidden from him why she was coming, he listened to all of her grief, bitterness and confusion about her dead son – her only son who had been God’s gracious gift to the formerly barren woman through Elisha’s prophecy. Elisha even kept silent through his servant’s failed attempt to follow the prophet’s instructions to resurrect him until God finally worked through Elisha by a more personal salvation (2 Kings 4). A miracle of such power, personal nature and public notoriety (based on the fact that she was a wealthy woman) proved God’s ability and willingness to restore His children, though they were dead in rebellion.
When Nehemiah and many other Israelites in captivity were grieving over the ruins of the temple and Jerusalem – even though he was cupbearer to the king – Nehemiah remained silent and waited for God who moved his captor’s heart to ask about his visible distress. (Nehemiah 1) Even this enemy king was struck by Nehemiah’s silent but powerful demeanor of concern.
When Paul came to the Aereopagus, he did not immediately speak to the Greek philosophers. Rather, he intently studied (“listened to”) their idols to understand the hearts and search of his audience. And though most mocked him afterward, some asked to hear more of what Paul had to say about Jesus. (Acts 17)
Our Lord still works through those who may be called to silence and to wait on Him…whenever and however He chooses to act.
Be encouraged. Now may not be the time for words. But when that time comes, no matter how hard the situation, He will give the words to those who are waiting and listening. (Luke 12:11-12)