Silence is golden, but my eyes still see… Ah yes, it’s golden oldie time, and with those lyrics I am once again a spry, slightly crazy, teenager, traveling in my time machine back to the sixties. The wild musical sounds that dominated those raucous years didn’t impress me much, I was more a fan of the tunes made popular by a men’s quartet…you know…the one with those close harmonies that could melt butter, and with that one guy blessed with a voice so high he could easily splinter glass. When those songs were aired, the volume on my transistor radio was boosted way up and this gal was singing along. I didn’t realize at the time that the phrase I was singing could be dated back as far as ancient Egypt. As with many proverbs, the origin of the phrase Silence is Golden has been somewhat obscured by the mists of passing time, and little did this teenager realize the impact and importance of that small phrase, for indeed, silence can be golden.
You may well be familiar with that phrase, but did you realize that the entire pithy saying is this: speech is silver, but silence is golden. Although that version of the phrase does date far back in world history, it would be Thomas Carlyle, an English poet of the 1800’s, who would translate the phrase into English and expound at length on the virtues of silence: Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together…Speech too is great, but not the greatest…Speech is of Time, Silence is of Eternity. Truly, those circumstances arise when the thought of saying nothing is preferable to speaking, when quiet discretion is more valuable than the most eloquent of words, when the shine of silver cannot be compared to the glitter of gold.
I have read through the ancient account of Job numerous times, imagining the deep devastation and pain that this man of God was experiencing in the midst of tragic loss and spiritual depression. I am familiar with the pious platitudes and sanctimonious sarcasm hurled at him by his friends, friends who added to his heavy load rather than bearing that load with him. But God used that familiar narrative to highlight a new truth to me, for I can learn much from those friends, men who for a brief moment in time were true comforters, an example to follow…at least for one week.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were three sages who shared Job’s faith in the God of Israel. As news of Job’s intense losses-losses of property and posterity-spread, as Job’s community learned that “all this evil…was come upon (Job),” these three men were moved to react, to leave the comfort of home to reach out compassionately to their friend. They had a firm purpose, a good intention in mind: “to mourn with him and to comfort him.” When they approach Job from “afar off,” they are shocked and saddened at his appearance; they barely recognize their friend; grief had marred his countenance. Their reaction is one of deep empathy; “they wept, and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven.” As I continued reading the account, I was reminded that they sat with their grieving friend for “seven days and seven nights,” and “none spake a word unto him.” For seven long days their would be no backslapping, no pep talk, no power of positive thinking analogies, no words of wisdom…just golden silence…”for they saw that his grief was very great.” Those seven silent days serve as an inspirational example for me to follow.
When God calls upon me to share the load of a suffering brother or sister, I need to be a compassionate counselor, a woman who understands that often my presence, the act of showing up and being quietly supportive with my ears rather than my mouth, is of much more value than any senseless platitudes I may share. Sometimes my affirmation is needed more than my advice, my love is required more than my logic, my assurances rather than my assumptions. If I yearn to be a godly encourager, I must understand that I need not deliver prepackaged answers, I need not pretend to understand something I could not possibly understand-the workings of an infinite God, and I definitely need not point a finger, unless it is to direct my friend to the true source of comfort, their loving Father. God help me to understand that often silence is golden, and exactly what is needed in the life of a suffering friend.
Job 2:13 So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.
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