An apologist I once heard said that some questions have no right answers. He gave an example he employed in primary school after discovering that conundrum. He would go to a classmate and say, “I want to ask you something, but you can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, okay?” Once the kid agreed, the question was posed: “Does your mother know how stupid you are?”
I don’t know if Jesus stood silent in front of Herod because he knew that no matter what he said he’d be found guilty anyway—we’ve probably all been in that damned-if-I-do-damned-if-I-don’t position. Maybe Jesus refused to speak because he knew that nothing he said would be meaningful to or understood by his interrogator. Or perhaps there was some other reason he declined to comment.
Silence can be golden, or it can be deafening. Sometimes it’s a window, other times it’s a weapon. I’ve been granted space to think, but I’ve also been given the silent treatment. (And I’ve been on the giving end of the silent treatment, too.)
In the past I’ve been prone to clam up when at odds with someone. It might look fairly humble or oh-so-righteously pensive, but the truth is, I usually had one of three dubious attitudes behind my mumness:
1. “You’re clearly too stupid to understand reason, so I’m not going to waste my breath on you.”
2. “I have no argument against your position, and I’m fairly steamed about that.”
or 3. “I’m mentally cataloguing all the means by which I’m going to decimate you once I do open my mouth.”
I need to look at the ways I make use of silence in my relationships. Am I allowing someone space, or ignoring a problem between us? Do I withhold words because I don’t want to wound, or because I won’t even demonstrate enough respect to engage? Am I selectively mute because I’m recognizing my mistake, or because I won’t admit it?
It’s hard to forgive—or receive forgiveness—without any words.
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And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make…?” But Jesus remained silent.
– Matthew 26:62-63
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