The story about how Jesus dealt with accusations against a woman who was accused of adultery (John 8:1-11) is familiar to most people who have any knowledge of the Bible. The picture of Jesus responding to the woman’s self-righteous accusers by silently kneeling down and writing something in the sand is graphic and intriguing. Was he writing a list of the sins of those who were condemning the woman? He stopped writing long enough to say, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (verse 7). Then he continued with his sand-writing. C. K. Barrett, a renowned Bible scholar, commented: “It is fruitless to ask what Jesus wrote on the ground. His action was simply a studied refusal to pronounce judgment.”1
“A studied refusal to pass judgment” — I’d like to be known for that. Unfortunately, my judgments of other people come all too swiftly, while my judgments of myself are much slower and more muted. Just by being silent, Jesus was speaking volumes. they heard him loud and clear, and “they went away, one by one” (verse 8).
I recently saw a meme that read simply:
“A wise man once said . . . NOTHING.”
I’m trying to cultivate the art of saying nothing. It’s not easy, because I have a tendency to try to fill the empty places in a conversation. But I’ll never hear other people if I’m always talking myself.
I recently watched a movie entitled “Silence.” It’s about 17th century Christian missionaries to Japan. A key to the meaning of the title is revealed in the ironic comment of a local Japanese leader regarding the legendary pioneer missionary who is the focus of the film:
“All the time he was here, he only taught, he never learned.”
Because he was preoccupied with the Gospel message he wanted to deliver, he never paused long enough to listen to the Japanese people, to hear about their culture, their longings, their struggles. What a sad commentary on a life dedicated to spreading the Gospel — all teaching, no learning! He was never silent enough to listen.
My tendency to speak when I should be listening extends to my relationship with God. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Inner silence is for our race a difficult achievement. There is a chattering part of the mind which continues, until it is corrected, to chatter on even in the holiest places.”2
Enough chattering! I’ll be quiet now and let the Holy Spirit speak in the silence.
– Pastor George Van Alstine
1 The Gospel According to St. John (1960), p. 492.
2 Perelandra (1943)