Article by Michael Bolland
Silent Treatment: This phrase, to me, is associated with memories of divisive high school drama or stubborn sibling insistence over trivial matters. I would guess I’m not the only person who connects this phrase with various experiences that involved childish manners of handling conflict. Essentially, it seems to be a spiteful act of attempting to see which person will no longer bear the unbearable, tension-filled silence. As childish as it is, this is a highly effective way of bugging the other person toward resolution because silence sucks when conflict and tension looms within it.
However, I’m going to make the argument that silence is not inherently bad nor always unbearable, in fact, when the instances of silence have warm, peaceful, resolved, or favorable associations, silence can be rather therapeutic. Here are some examples:
- Leaving space for God’s transforming Spirit during quiet prayer becomes instinctual over time to those who know God’s gospel truce and enduring love in Christ.
- There need not be noise in a room occupied by seasoned lovers because their warm & long-lasting affection has become the assuring aroma that fills the space.
- Staring into the eyes of a dear friend during the void of silence after hearing tragic news, seeing them mutually take on your pain is sufficiently effective to endure a myriad of sad moments.
Silence where tension looms tends toward being a soul-killing and painful dead space, while silence with the shalom-type flavors in these examples above fosters enduring livelihood.
The central assertion I’d like to make is that the gospel of Jesus speaks usable peace, endurance, and assurance for us to receive and utilize in the unbearable silence of life.
Cosmic Silent Treatment
The relationship between God and man when God’s Son took on flesh and dwellt among us is described in John 1:9-11, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” The Old Testament affirms that this is within the norm for humanity to respond to God in this way. History would show that we have a habit of giving God the cold shoulder of silence, even in spite of his abundant acts of mercy and patience. Here, Jesus enters into our immature manner of life, and we are shown estranged to a point of incapably recognizing who is in our midst. The tension-filled and looming conflict between God and man has had its way so as to lead man to forget who’s on the receiving end of their cold-shoulder.
Yet, Jesus had not forgotten his own. John 1:12-13 says, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Our childish relating to God was to no longer align with man’s history, but to align with being born of God.
Jesus didn’t just enter into the tension though, he took it upon himself. “Tension” is not a satisfying description: our relationship with God was a deadly catastrophe. Our silent disconnect from and against the source of all life left us hopeless. Jesus responded by willfully sacrificing himself as payment for our childish & deadly rebellion. When God the Son cried out to God the Father on the cross of calvary, He received the cosmic silent treatment we deserved. Now, we through faith receive the attentive grace of our heavenly Father for settling into our newfound identity as his children.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)
Moments of isolation are bound to occur, and heavy uncertain silence with them. The gospel has usable peace to speak as we remember the cross, because remembering we have peace with God through Christ silences any notion of anxious uncertain standing before the Father. When the isolation includes attacks of burdening you with sin past, a recollection of the cross declares news of ceasefire and justice satisfied in Christ. Having peace with God prompts us toward becoming peacemakers with others, because God initiated with us in our silent treatment toward Him.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)
We may have long-lasting unreconciled pain, conflict, or trouble, and the delay of a healing response, receptive forgiveness, or eased burden stands as an unending, quiet void. The gospel sings a hopeful note into such a situation. With the gospel in mind, these long challenging seasons take on a building purpose. The entire duration of an unending season of trouble has an existent and promised working about of gospel growth and an increasing capacity to endure until Christ’s return. A friend to a sufferer need only calmly remain in loving presence as the silent delay of resolve brings about growth in the form of enduring hope.
“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
Really, any sort of silence can be an ungrounded experience where the best of us are vulnerable to shame. Over this, the gospel claims the banner of guaranteed hope—God’s love poured out in the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8:16 it is written, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Jesus’ entrance into the silent treatment we were foolishly giving God, involved the pursuit of making us his children. We have an internal Counselor in the Spirit, who assures us we are no longer bound to our previous pattern of sin. We have newfound assurance available to lovingly wrap our vulnerable existence with reminders of whose we have become.