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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Sounds of Silence”
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I hope this episode doesn’t end up being prophetic.
In “Sounds of Silence”, we’re introduced to the kirins. They are a race of creatures that abandoned the ability to talk for fear of their words getting each other upset or angry to the point of breaking out in violence due to their alternate “nirik” natures. In doing so, this episode speaks volumes about the power of words and emotions but also introduces an interesting concept about silence: in the right situation, silence speaks just as powerfully if not more so than words.
By far, the most powerful and dangerous organ in the human body is the tongue. The ability to speak and transmit complex ideas, sentiments, and feelings simply through our voices sets us above and beyond all other creatures and is likely largely responsible for human civilization. Words can teach, explain, insult, motivate, discourage, comfort, incite, organize, and tear down.
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)
“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:3-10)
It’s small wonder, therefore, that many places in the world seek to maintain power or control over the ability to speak. Freedom of speech, the ability to publicly state your mind about anything (but especially the government or society), is considered a hallmark of free nations; while a lack of freedom of speech is a signature of oppressive regimes. Many places in the world will form protests, mobs, or even riot in response to someone speaking about something that they don’t want to hear. At the more individual level, people can grow incensed when talking about sensitive matters or hearing someone trudge on their beliefs; even enough to grow angry or violent. (Hence the unwritten rule in many families about never talking about politics or religion.)
As a result, silence has quite a powerful force to it as well. Oppressive countries attempt to make themselves look better to the world by forbidding people to even speak of black marks on their history, and claim they have the widespread love and happiness of their own citizens because anyone who says anything against them can be imprisoned or forcefully stifled. What stories are chosen to headline news get national attention, whereas other important matters that simply go unreported are quickly unnoticed and ultimately forgotten. And, as often seen in history, all that’s necessary for widespread evils such as slavery, ethnic cleansing, or genocide to reach the point of becoming national policy is for people to not say a word against them…in which case, ironically, silence speaks volumes.
And of course, almost since the beginning of Christianity, silence has been the primary means of suppression of the Gospel. As Christians we all believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that everyone is lost to Hell without His Grace, and that His message is the ultimate good news too important not to share. Yet nevertheless, even for those of us lucky enough not to live in countries where speaking of Jesus can earn anywhere from a jail sentence to a cup full of acid in our faces, the possibility of getting everyone angry and worked up, launching into an emotion fueled debate, and leaving everyone despising us for being “Jesus freaks” is enough to keep us quiet and retain the message to ourselves. On the other hand, nations that do this as a matter of policy use silence as a means of quiet extermination. After all, so long as Christians cannot proselytize but other religions can, their numbers should eventually die out or at least be confined to their families at best.
Today in the USA, however, we face a threat far more unprecedented. With the idea proposed that hearing something unsettling or uncomfortable causes stress, and that chronic stress can have ill health effects, many people have come to the conclusion that, therefore, speech is physical violence. That simply talking not only can hurt emotionally or mentally but actually leave a tangible mark on the human body. Therefore, rather than argue, debate, or simply ignore certain topics, the new impetus from some people is that those topics shouldn’t even be allowed to be spoken in public at all as they are physically dangerous.
Hence the ongoing debate over the idea of “safe spaces”, whether speakers should not only be banned but physically barred from entering college campuses, and even groups as extreme as Antifa who believe the only equitable and rational response to someone’s “violent” speech is to inflict actual physical violence; since by merely saying something they didn’t like the speaker was “physically assaulting” them to begin with.
Most of all, it’s taking the “no politics or religion” to a new extreme and trending more to what’s in this episode—making topics off-limits to the public by relegating them to silence. What this means for all of us is that when something you say gets a group of individuals unhappy, or sometimes just a single individual, the topic ends up banned from even being allowed to be mentioned under threat of violence or reprisal.
I consider this the equivalent of a modern day lynch mob, and dread to think what will happen if silencing people like this becomes official legal policy.
Ultimately, I think this episode illustrated a good principle in a timely manner about what to do about this. I would supplement it just a little, though.
Someone once said something very simple yet very profound to me—how I feel about something may be beyond my control, but what I do with those feelings is always my responsibility. Only a small child throws a fit and screams when they get sad or angry. A person who wishes to be an adult, on the other hand, must take responsibility for their own emotions and express them in healthy and appropriate ways. No one is responsible for your behavior but you.
In this world, you will inevitably face something that makes you sad, upset, or even angry. Someone will say something that challenges you and incenses you. In fact, if you want to claim you’re truly living, I guarantee that will happen. The only way it wouldn’t is if, like in this episode, we lived in a world of silence. But that’s more than just not being able to chat, laugh, or sing. A world where you never feel uncomfortable or tried in your beliefs or opinions is an egocentric one—where you can go around smugly believing yourself to be perfectly right in every way all the time with no need to self-improve, challenge your own assumptions, or ever think any differently. If you want to grow, your values have to be tested and proven.
That’s why even though I believe Christianity is the one true faith I am completely behind total freedom of religion. My faith is worthless if it can’t stand up to others challenging it, and my own resolve is weak if the only way I can ensure people stay in my faith is by threatening them if they consider leaving it.
Just as we will all inevitably face something that makes us upset or uncomfortable, we too will all inevitably say something to someone else that makes them upset or uncomfortable (at least, we will if we claim we stand for something). Even if that thing is of lasting value and important to disclose. When that time comes, we may face anger. We may face hate. We may even face violence.
For the Christian, we already know exactly what the most important thing is. And Jesus warned us from the start about what that would mean. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)
The Gospel isn’t always a message that makes people “feel good”; although it often will for the repentant. For those who still cling to their sins, however, it’s a message of conviction…designed to make one uncomfortable so that they will seek repentance and Jesus’ free gift of salvation. Some people will accept it; some people won’t. Keeping silent and not sharing it may be a way to avoid possible scorn and ire from those who won’t, but it’s also a guarantee that people who have never heard it and would have accepted it will go on not hearing it until the day they face judgment.
The truth is, so long as you stand for something, it will inevitably make someone mad or upset. (If it didn’t, change would never happen.) Yet as Autumn Blaze says, “you can’t give up your laughter ’cause you’re scared of a little pain”. For that reason, whenever we know something is good, something is right, and something is important, we can’t let fear, whether internal or external, keep us silent. Especially when it comes to the Gospel for those who need to hear it.
May that be something we are always willing to make a stand for.
Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the power of my words, and that within them I have the ability to spread the message of your salvation, to encourage the downhearted, to comfort the grieving, to love the unloved, and to speak the truth in the face of falsehood. Please grant that no thing outside of me and that nothing inside of me will ever keep me from saying what needs to be said or from proclaiming the Good News to the world. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”