Posted by: Dan | May 19, 2006

Integrity: When to Speak and When to Stay Silent

In a recent seminar on preaching Tom Wright argued that it is absolutely essential for preachers to speak with integrity. Integrity, Wright argued, means only speaking of things that have become a part of of you, the speaker. As he emphasised:

Do not try to say things that haven't become a part of you.

Of course, he went on to say, if applying this means that the material on which you can preach is drastically narrowed, then you probably need to be spending more time working on yourself than on instructing others.

Alas, Christians far too often speak about things that have not become a part of who they are. What is particularly tragic is that this is just as true of the key concepts of Christianity as it is of the various details.

I think back to when I was 17 and kicked out by my parents. That was a pretty rough time in my life, sleeping at friends' houses, homeless, depressed, and just messed up in general. I mean, I used to go out late at night looking to find fights that I would lose because I felt like I deserved that — that's pretty messed up. Throughout that time, I appealed for help, or guidance (or anything really) from my various Christian friends and mentors. And so, God forgive them, they tried to comfort me. They essentially told me that, “hey, it sucks that your father seems to hate you but, ummm, God loves you.” Not surprisingly that didn't do a whole lot of good. Looking back on that situation now, I have come to realise that the reason why the words struck me as hollow was because most (perhaps all) of the people I spoke with had never really had a life transforming encounter with God's love. And so they spoke of something that had not become a part of them — and it only furthered my sense of isolation at that time. The shockingly tragic thing is that when I speak to Christian audiences about my life transforming encounter with God's love, I am usually met with a sea of blank faces. It seems that we have churches full of people who have been told that God loves them, yet who have never experienced that love personally.

When this is the case, the best Christian comforters can do is remain silent lest they become like Job's friends — false comforters who only aggravate the sufferings of others. Sometimes silence is the only way in which we can maintain our integrity as faithful witnesses to both the love of God and the sufferings of others.

Indeed, on the cross even Jesus, the very Word of God, is reduced to silence. In death there are no words spoken. Jesus' cry of forsakenness fades into inarticulate groanings and then the Wordlessness of death. Thus, as we journey with the crucified people of today — the marginalised, the oppressed, the abandoned, and the broken — most of us would do well to maintain that silence. Only those who have experienced both the cross of godforsakenness and the transforming Spirit of resurrection life should dare to address the suffering ones — for those who know both cross and resurrection know how to speak with hesitation, with tenderness, and with patience.

It is those who, abiding in the resurrection Spirit and bearing on their own bodies the brandmarks of Jesus Christ, can say to those with fearful hearts:

“Be strong. Be still. Your God will come. He will come with vengeance. He will come with divine retribution. He will come and save you.

And on that day your wounds will be healed. Your tears will be dried. You, too, will be made new.

Hold on, Beautiful One, your God, the God of creation who is also your Lover, will come for you. And until your God comes, I will abide with you. I will weep with you. I will play with you. I will wait with you. I will be a foretaste of the love that is coming to you.”

Maranatha. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, we are dying here without you.

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