Silence

Preaching and Worship Resources about Silence

Part of the rhythm of life with God and with God's creatures, silence is a stillness from which to listen and from which to speak.

In Scripture

Night and Day "Then God said, `Let there be light'; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day" (Gen. 1:3-5).

"To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, do not refuse to hear me, for if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the Pit" (Ps. 28:1).

"Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth" (Ps. 46:10).

Waiting in Silence "For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him" (Ps. 62:5).

Restrained in Speech "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech" (Prov. 10:19).

Time for Everything "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Eccles. 3:1, 7b).

Waiting Quietly for Salvation "It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord" (Lam. 3:26).

Like a Sheep "He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth" (Isa. 53:7).

All the Earth Keep Silence "The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!" (Hab. 2:20).

Jesus Was Silent "The high priest stood up and said, `Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?' But Jesus was silent" (Matt. 26:62-63a).

The Sea Was Calm "He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, `Peace! Be still!' Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm" (Mark 4:39).

Silence in Heaven "When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour" (Rev. 8:1).

Points to Ponder

God Rests In Genesis 1 God speaks six times on six days and then stops. God rests. But each of these days also has a night. And God rests then too. God doesn't talk all the time. In fact, Genesis doesn't even start with a word. Genesis starts with the formlessness of the earth and with the Spirit of God brooding over the face of the deep. Then God speaks. You might say that at last God speaks. "Let there be light," says God. According to Genesis, God breaks the cosmic silence with a creative word. Alternating silence and speech and silence is the very rhythm of God, as old and deep in the nature of things as creation itself.

Silent Awe Because the presence of God is numinous, one appropriate response to it is silent awe. God is supernatural, elevated, mysteriously other. Within such a presence an awed human has nothing to say. She is struck dumb. This primal fact explains why silence has become a Christian spiritual discipline. A disciplined believer quiets down to listen for the still, small voice of God, typically in a setting where the sounds of the rest of creation may also be heard.

A Target of Lament But in the psalms, God's silence may seem ominous. When God is expected to respond and doesn't, God's silence suggests indifference or unexcused absence and so is a typical target of lament.

Talkativeness In wisdom literature, talkativeness is regarded as a sign of folly. The wise listen more than they speak because they are always hoping to learn something. The talkative are more interested in instructing than in learning.

Not Talking Wise people imitate God by not talking all the time. They've got more silences than words, and their silences are just as disciplined and just as thoughtful as their words. They speak only from the context of silence, and when they have nothing valuable to say, they fall silent.

Wise Speakers Wise speakers may say more or less than others, but usually less, and always less that needs to be taken back. They have the habit of pausing before they speak, of considering their words in a way that adds weight to them. They give the impression of speaking out of a stillness at their center, a quiet place in which they are at home with themselves, in touch with God, and hospitable to the voices of others. It's a great advantage to be able to speak well, but it is a great art to be silent.

Silent Resistance to Injustice Silent resistance to injustice was a hallmark in the peace movements of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Lunch counter demonstrators, for instance, not only did not retaliate against the violence they were absorbing, they also did not return the vicious insults they were enduring. This was Christ-like: people absorb evil without turning it back onto the perpetrators, thus breaking the cycle of revenge and also witnessing to the world that goodness is more powerful than evil. It's easy to hurt and insult a lunch-counter sitter. It's profoundly difficult to absorb this evil.

Silent Spaces in Worship Thoughtful worship planners and leaders may want to consider creating a few silent spaces in worship to imitate God and to respect the ways of the wise. In noisy contemporary culture silence within worship is subversive and refreshing.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.