The Struggle of Silence

O God, my praise do not pass over in silence; for the mouth of the sinner and the mouth of the deceitful man are opened against me. They have spoken against me with a deceitful tongue, and with words of hatred have they encompassed me, and they have warred against me without a cause. In return for my love, they have falsely accused me; but as for me, I gave myself to prayer. And they repaid me evil for good, and hatred for my love. Set Thou a sinner over him, and let the devil stand at his right hand. When he is judged, let him go forth condemned, and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few, and his bishopric let another take. (Psalm 108 [109])

This psalm, of course, is applied Christologically by the Apostles in Acts 1 when they are selecting a replacement for Judas, who, we are told went and fell headlong and burst open, his bowels spilling out. It is not surprising, I do not think, that the Apostles would see in this psalm a Christological center, given the subject matter of the psalm and the act of betrayal for which Judas himself would forever be known.

This is an imprecatory psalm, which gives modern Christians bunches of fits. This is due, of course, to the modern inability to see the Psalter through the lenses of Christ, to see at its heart Jesus. Utterly scandalized with the psalmist’s call to smite the Edomites, modern Christians and exegetes fail to see that the Edomites are the passions within us which war against the Spirit and the grace of God. They fail to see the connection between “let his bishopric another take” and St. Paul’s “I beat my body and make it my slave.”

But those concerns aside, I am struck by the opening verse of this psalm: “O God, my praise do not pass over in silence.” If there is one thing our world, including and especially our Christian world, cannot abide, it is silence. The endless human yammering that goes on in our world is endemic and psychotic. We have twenty-four hour radio and television stations and programs. We carry our iPods and mp3 players. Our vision is bombarded by tens of thousands of images. Visual and audio pollution is rife. Humankind cannot stand too much silence.

And, if we take this psalm as a cue, it is even more difficult when one feels oneself wrongly accused. The human instinct is one of defense and self-justification. We fear loss: of reputation, of friends, of family. We seek to control the consequences, and so we instinctively rise to fill the void left in the wake of such slanders. If we do not, then . . . ?

But one of the problems with the imprecatory psalms, for those of us who are barely disciples of Christ, is that rather than assist us in fighting the passions, they give rise in us to them. Like the psalmist we may well wish imprecations on our enemies. And, from a perspective rooted in justice, that may well be reasonable.

Yet, especially as we get closer to Holy Week, I am mindful of a different sort of response. That of Christ. “As a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” He answered not a word. He remained silent. And it did not save him from the injustice of false accusations, torture, and death. He was silent.

I dare not universalize this silence, of course. After all, different times and occasions, different vocations from God, may call forth different obediences. But I also know there is something here for me. A deeper trail that runs beneath and through the psalm above. That is to say, it may well be that we can best fight the sinful passions within us, by remaining silent.

Such a silence is a sort of death. Indeed, such a silence may not forestall further injustices and loss. And if this is what God wills, then this is somehow his mercy and his goodness to us. Such a silence cannot but call for an increase in faith. And so we call out, “I do believe, help my unbelief.”

Lord have mercy. Lady pray for me.

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