Silent no more

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God, says the Psalmist.[1]

What kind of silence is this? Jim Mays says it’s “a quietness of soul, an inner stillness that comes with yielding all fears and anxieties and insecurities to God in an act of trust.”[2] It’s a silence rooted in deep trust in God who will not keep silent. It’s an unshakable trust in the God of justice who will not rest until all of creation is at peace.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God.

But not every silence is “a quietness of soul.” When you can’t speak for pain or fear or shame, your soul is not quiet. When your outrage has been pushed to the margins of what words can express, you may be speechless, but your silence does not reflect an inner stillness. When the hand of the abuser is pressing down on your lips, your mouth may be silenced but your soul, every cell in your body, is screaming.

And what kind of silence is it when you know the truth and keep quiet, when you watch and remain silent, when you see and refuse to speak—what kind of silence is that?

Elie Wiesel, who survived the terror of the Nazi death camps, knew the stillness of the child asleep in his mother’s arms, and he knew the quietness of soul that blesses those who rest in God, but he also had to wrestle from a young age with the silence of the bystanders and the silence of the lives gone up in smoke, and the silence of God. In 1986 Elie Wiesel was given the Nobel Peace Prize, and he said in his acceptance speech,

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.[3]

I watched the Golden Globe awards the other day; I watched the whole thing: the women dressed in black on the red carpet, the men in their tuxedos, the host and his jokes, the clips, the nominees—and then Oprah went up on stage, and she shouted like only Oprah can shout across an entire ball room and all of the country, “Time’s up! Time’s up!”

No more business-as-usual in Hollywood and New York, in Washington and at Karolyi Ranch in Texas, at NPR News and other media organizations, at Highpoint Church in Memphis and other churches that time and again have “supported and protected clergy who have used their very sacred powers, the trust that’s put in them by their congregations, as a cover for abuse.”[4] Time’s up! The silence has been broken. The power of shame and fear is crumbling as the truth is finally being spoken. Time’s up! This is a moment of hope ready to become a movement.

We read in the Gospel of Mark that after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

To say that ‘the time is fulfilled’ is very similar to saying ‘time’s up!’ Time’s up for sin’s oppressive rule. Time’s up for the powers that keep human beings from being fully alive. Time’s up for the forces and systems that keep creation in bondage. Time’s up for the reign of fear, greed, and violence because the kingdom of God has come near in the person of Jesus.

What are we to do in this moment of fulfilled time? “Repent, and believe in the good news,” says Jesus. To repent is to turn around, to stop living according to the habits, standards and conventions whose time is up, and to start living in the time of fulfillment. It’s a complete reorientation of one’s life.

“Believe in the good news,” says Jesus. Don’t think that you have to repent your way to acceptance and perfection, that you have to do this and that and the other in order to inch a little closer to the kingdom of God where fullness of life awaits you—no, trust the word that the kingdom is already here, that fullness of life has come near you in the person of Jesus, embracing you with compassion and grace. Trust the love that will not let you go.

It was Erik Erikson who helped us see and understand what we have always known: trust is not just something we do, but a foundational part of who we are. As children we develop a basic trust which grows out of our parents’ loving commitment and care. Astonishingly, this basic trust endures even if the mother or father turn away or are absent for a while. When things go well, we acquire a trust in life stronger than our fear, and out of it we develop a slow but sure self-trust or self-confidence. And this self-trust makes it possible to come to terms with many of the disappointments and betrayals we experience when our trust is betrayed by other people.[5]

Jürgen Moltmann has compared trust to “an atmosphere for living, without which there can be no life truly human. … Fish need water in which to swim, birds need air in which to fly, and we human beings need trust in order to develop our humanity.”

“Human life,” he writes, “must be affirmed, accepted, and loved, for the very reason that it can also be denied, rejected, and hated. A human life that is denied, rejected, and despised atrophies, becomes sick, and dies.”[6]  When Jesus says, “Believe in the good news,” he calls us to life. He invites and encourages us to recognize ourselves and each other as affirmed, accepted, and loved by God.

And he doesn’t just say it, he lives it. Time’s up for the powers that deny, reject, and despise human life and dignity. Time’s up because the mighty one whose coming John the baptizer had announced, has come. Time’s up and the moment of hope is ready to become a movement. What will this mighty one’s inaugural act be, we wonder…

Mark tells us that passing along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The mighty one’s first mighty act initiating the kingdom of God is not some spectacular miracle to wow the masses. He calls four guys at work, and tells them to come with him. From the beginning, the story of the kingdom is a story of community; Jesus is no solitary great-man-celebrity, but Jesus-in-relationship-to-his-disciples: Jesus and Peter and Andrew and Mary and Martha and James and John and Emily and José and Bob and Lydia and all the others.

And he calls the very first ones in pairs so we understand right from the beginning that discipleship and ministry are no solitary projects, but rooted in the community Jesus continues to call and send.

We also notice that his call is disruptive. With the first two disciples, Mark mentions only the nets they left. With the next two, Mark shows us old man Zebedee in the boat. This doesn’t mean that leaving your job and family are standard requirements of discipleship. But it lets us see that when Jesus calls us to follow, there are things to be left behind, familiar things, places, people, habits and ideas—as when the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Abram and Sara went, because they trusted the call and promise of God, because they trusted the God who called them to new life. Simon and Andrew followed, because they trusted the one who called them.

On the one hand, our trust is linked with familiarity, with safekeeping what is familiar, preserving what one has and knows. This trust in the familiar and accustomed binds the present to the past.

On the other hand, trust is bound up with confidence. It has to do with setting forth from what is familiar and known. It is about openness for the unknown future, and faith in the promising God. Here trust is paired with hope, and is a power that allows us to face the challenges of the future creatively, with joy in the adventure.[7]

We don’t know who Jesus is until we walk with him. We don’t know the life he called the kingdom of God until we walk with him. Until we walk and watch, listen and learn. And before we know it, the compassion he has for all changes us, and we begin to treat others with compassion; the regard and respect he has for all changes us, and we begin to treat others with respect; the love and grace with which he embraces all redeems and restores us, and we finally begin to see ourselves and each other in the light of God’s love and grace.

You see, although the history of humanity is a history of injustice and violence, unbelief and godlessness, God still believes in us. God’s trust in us is unwavering. That is an inexhaustible source of new courage, new beginnings, and reborn hope that does not fail.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from God.

This is not the silence of complicity. It is the quietness of soul that draws its strength from the presence and promise of God. It is an inner stillness that enables us, when others stand by, to stand up and speak up.


[1] Psalm 62:5

[2] James L. Mays, Psalms, 216.


[4] Serene Jones in an interview with Michel Martin

[5] See Jürgen Moltmann, “Control Is Good—Trust Is Better: Freedom and security in a ‘free world’,” Theology Today 62, no. 4 (January 2006), 466-467.

[6] Ibid., 467.

[7] See Moltmann, 473-474.

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