The words in the title for this second reflection from the book of Job come from the book of Ecclesiastes many centuries later. These words are so easy to say and they contain a truth almost everyone would accept in principle. There is: A time to be silent and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7b). I know myself that I have made the wrong call on probably many occasions over the years, speaking too soon when I should have listened more, waiting to hear the other person say what was really on their heart rather than just the introductory words testing out whether I was really willing to listen to them.
By speaking too soon it took much longer to find out the real issue of concern. However, it can work the other way too. How many of us have stayed silent and not intervened when another party to a conversation uttered a completely inappropriate remark. In the last two weeks the silence of many to speak out on racial injustice has been highlighted. But we all know there are many social contexts private and public where Christian voices needed to be heard more clearly. No wonder the words of James 1:5 in the New Testament are so applicable.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
Are any readers of this message struggling even today over whether to speak or keep silent in the midst of a difficult situation? We need to be honest with ourselves that sometimes there is no clear cut choice before us either way whether to speak or be silent. But it is likely in the majority of contexts that we have a fair idea of how we ought to respond.
Job has lost his children, his businesses and last of all his good health and is pictured sitting silently amongst the ashes (Job 2:8). Over the course of the next week he has company sitting with him; the vast majority of that time is one of complete silence. When life’s circumstances are so tough words can seem so inadequate to express the aches of our hearts to give a comfort that is beyond our ability to administer.
At such times it is absolutely okay to be silent sitting with someone or some people on a pastoral visit. Your presence can convey the fact that you cared enough to be there. However, there was one person who spoke to Job. Job 2:9 states: His wife said to him, ‘Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!’ Unless we have experienced a major tragedy in our personal lives, it is incredibly difficult to ‘stand in the shoes’ of another person who has. Job broke his silence to respond. Job 2:10-11: He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’ In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
Notice that he didn’t charge her with being a foolish woman, he knew her too well over many years to think that. On the contrary, she shared his pain in their losses and words came out from a heart full of anguish. Graciously and quietly he asked her to join him in trusting God for their future, in the midst of their confusion. They had no answers to the torrent of questions that flowed through their minds as they sat together in the silence. But it is okay in such settings to be silent, then and now, there will be a place for words in the future – sometimes people simply need to know we care enough to be there for them, sometimes physically, at other times on the end of a phone and regularly to be praying for them
Our song for reflection today is: ‘Through the love of God our Saviour’