To speak or not to speak, that is the question… which is nobler?

I miss the generation who possessed the art of noiseless speaking. Do you know what I mean? Conversation would be going along quite normally but then all of a sudden certain words would be mouthed rather than spoken. Les Dawson was brilliant at it! Some had a greater noiseless vocabulary than others extending to a whole host of topics and words; to talk with them was like trying to follow the conversation through a microphone that intermittently cut out without warning which was tedious and for me at least, resulted in curiosity giving way to no listening at all! Leaving aside those who over tested my lip reading skills, when such ability was called forth, I always thought when a word was spoken without sound I was on holy ground. Something was being spoken about that was to be considered with reverence. At times of course this art of noiseless speaking could create a sense of shame; when it was used like that, well, I don’t miss that at all. It wasn’t so used in our family. I was brought up in a large extended and genuinely Christian family and the feeling noiseless mouthing of words from my elders left in me, was that whoever that noiseless word was being spoken about , they were struggling with something beyond the norm. Usually afterwards there was complete silence with not even lips moving or being read before the conversation moved on again. I actually quite often felt the presence of God in that silent aftermath: it felt like a silence that God honoured with His own presence; I would have liked to have stayed there pondering it for longer.

So many people carry such hidden shames or pains that I guess it is good that we live in more open times…but…I regret it in a way. Things that are the cause of deep pain and human struggle are now spoken about so blithely and freely that it reduces struggle to gossip, or at best to mere information. I guess I am saying something that makes me sound older than my 58 plus years: “Is nothing sacred any more?” Coming into the open about some experience when I am being drawn that way by God and His Word and His Spirit is one thing, but the modern force of an across-the-board, inviolable commandment attached to doing that, is quite another: it is devaluing the human condition. Sometimes I face something of that struggle in writing my blogs: I want to be open about “me” when it is helpful, but that does not require that I tell everything about “me.” There is a time when it is wrong to cover things up, where revealing will bring much needed release and healing to oneself or others, but there is a time when grace allows us to cover things in silence; it is best for me and it is best for others. Remember that God has put two rows of bars in front of our tongue; our  teeth, and if they are non-existent or have a few gaps for unwise verbosity to escape, our lips.

Open sharing of everything under the sun can put a burden on me rather than bringing relief and it can put a burden on those who hear as well, that they need not have been forced to carry. I think of some of the stuff that nursery school children are supposed now to be taught in Scotland: our love of openness which is meant to produce a generation of children who carry less shame and put less shame on others may well bring up a very troubled and mixed up generation indeed; robotic conformity  mantras with no freedom to think otherwise, seems an odd method of education to use; it is in fact child abuse by the state. In the name of “Diversity” straightjackets of forced “Conformity”  are being imposed upon even the very young in a thoughtlesss and merciless way.  I am praying as I write for those of you who will be worried for your own children or grandchildren because of  militant secularism and increasingly “big government” that we are seeing trying to assert itself  in Scotland, as freedom to think differently is under attack or at least only allowed within increasingly proscribed and at times even policed  limits.

“How did this blog come about?”, you may or may not be asking! Well, I found myself reading part of the story of Ruth. I was thinking about the fact that nowadays it is more common to hear reference to Esther than to Ruth. When I was strictly conservative evangelical (still am basically), Ruth was often referred to; since I added in charismatic belief and circles to the mix  (still held basically), I seem to hear much more about Esther. I will come back to thoughts beyond the ones in the next paragraph, about why this is, another day…perhaps.

Esther certainly appeals to a love of the dramatic with it’s “being brought to the Kingdom for such a time as this” feel. It is a magnetic story for  “World Changers” which is what we are usually encouraged in charismatic circles to think everyone has to become (no comment, for now!) Actually Ruth was a world changer too; it’s just there is not an obvious or loud  and dramatic “World Changers” verse to quote!  It is a quieter story centering around the beauty of someone who was not even by birth  one of the people of God; Ruth was by birth a foreigner, though seems to have absorbed by contact something of what it meant to behave with honour as one of His people.  The setting of Esther is that really she was a backslidden member of the people of God living where she should not have been living, as the story begins. I know that takes the romance of the story away a bit! Sorry if you got a shock just now! Here is another shock: It is the only book in the bible where you cannot find the word of God being mentioned at all in any shape or form. Karl Barth who emphasized the primacy of the word in his theology was once asked where the word of God appeared in Esther: He said hat he was still looking for it!

Perhaps the lesson of Esther is that even when you are a backslider living with backsliders, when you are living in a place a child of God should not find themselves in among people who never even mention the Word of God to one another, the God of grace is still there in mercy, faithful to His covenants. Humility is a quality in God Himself and part of humility is behaving the right way even if others have not treated you the right way and doing so without  making a song and dance about it.  With Christmas coming within shouting distance, we should remember that Jesus came into a rebellious world  – where  the earthly king of God’s covenant people has to ask for  a search and an answer to be made to find out  the answer to such a basic question as to where the Word of God said the Messiah was to be born –  as the God who humbled Himself (See Philippians 2). Astonishing; a reason to be lost in wonder, love and praise. The story of Esther works out as it does not simply because of her beauty, but because of the mercy of an ignored God. Without His presence, we would never have heard of Esther  or the Jewish contemporaries whom she lived among,  save in some sort of Psalm, either of “lament”, or even of “warning” type: “This is the disaster that comes on those who forsake God. Look, read and consider their fearfully tragic end and learn wisdom.”

The Bible is often quite open about people’s struggles and even their sins, however not so with Esther. Is the writer whitewashing her story by not giving us the true setting or so as not to take the gloss off the romance of the story? I don’t think so. The silence of the writer gives us such an important lesson to consider: Not everything needs to be brought out into the open all the time. Paradoxically, I felt I had to write about that today and about the true setting of Esther to make that point.

You may be feeling a relentless pressure to speak about something, not because you want to but because it is the mood of the times. Well, moods are not helpful. Fortunately we worship a God who does not have moods good or bad  and who gives us strength not to be ordered about by our moods or others’ moods or by changing moods of culture. Why not take time alone with Him today and ask a question, “Is this something, Lord ,that it would be helpful to bring out into the open, or is your grace allowing me to cover it for time and eternity and move on?” If it helps to speak out, then speak to someone who you know will revere the sacred quality in what you are doing as you speak out; but perhaps this blog is giving you the liberty to think, “Do I need to tell someone this… or do I have your permission, Father, with joy and relief to bury this deep in eternal  and merciful silence and  there let it be transformed by your grace?” The advice is often given, “You really need to speak to someone about this”. Often that is advice from God and needs to be heeded… but it ain’t necessarily so. Just saying…

God Bless

Kenny Borthwick

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One comment on “To speak or not to speak, that is the question… which is nobler?

  1. John Bathgate says:

    I remember my father saying on several occasions ‘some things are too sacred to tell’. I think he was onto something…


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