Heavenly silence in a hell of a world

June 11th, 2022

Note: Throughout this article, you will be invited into silence. It will take approximately 25 minutes to read and participate in the silence. Having a 2-minute timer set and available will facilitate the experience. 


Two social media posts capture the tension I have felt recently. The first went something like this: “Please, Church, say something. We need you to say something. Those of us 35 years old and under need you to speak up and say something about this injustice.” The social media post came in the immediate aftermath of the George Floyd murder and they have been repeated many times since. And there was something real, earnest, genuine, and important in them. Church, say something!

The second went something like this: “Now is the time for the church to shut up and do some listening. We have been talking for too long. Now’s the time to sit and listen to what others have to say.” These words, too, came in the summer of 2020. And just like the first resonated with me, so did these words. There was something real, earnest, genuine, and important in them. Church, listen up!

Obviously the signals were mixed, to say the least! Speak up or shut up? Of course, the answer is, “It depends!” But on what and on whom? Pastors and spiritual guides are keenly attuned to ministry contexts. We know that not every city, church, coffee shop, and kitchen is the same. We are tuned to these differences, but the very nature of social media blends even basic contexts: family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and (accidental?) enemies are lumped together in the same audience! The keenest social media missiologist recognizes that discerning a context is, frankly, impossible. Missiology in the social media age is heavily individualized, as is the context for ministry today. And sometimes the individual doesn’t know their own context, doesn’t know if they want you to speak up or shut up, until they’ve been let down. Pastors and spiritual guides have been critiqued from all sides: “Why didn’t you say something?!” or “Your silence speaks volumes!” or “Why couldn’t you just listen?” or “Why do you always need to have something to say?”

While the song is now over 30 years old, it captures the current head-spinning, heart-splitting, hand-wringing moment: 

Oh life is bigger
It's bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I've said too much
I set it up

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spot-light
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no I've said too much
I haven't said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Do you recognize the song? The catchy-yet-haunting tune of R.E.M.’s appropriately named song, “Losing my Religion” captures the tension of the song’s lyrics, too. 

Maybe you’ve been there, too—simultaneously having said too much and not enough. If you’re anything like me, my words haunt me. Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline’s chapter on solitude, quotes Quaker preacher John Woolman who grieved that he had “said more than was required of me.” That’s me in the spotlight…but the light simply revealed all my shortcomings. Yet at the same time, my silence catches me. Why didn’t I have something to say when something needed to be said?  That’s me in the corner…unsure just what the room needs.

Perhaps this tension haunts preachers all the more because, after all, we are so often paid to work with words! We are quite often paid to fill silence with words.


Pause for at least 2 minutes of silence. Do you resonate with the missiological tensions named above? Do you sense the tension saying too much yet not having said enough? Don’t rush through these feelings. Allow them to surface and stir your spirit.




Silence is uncomfortable. It’s awkward, even painful. Did you feel it? Silence, like all voids, wants to be filled. We wonder who’s responsible to act, to speak. As Christians, we are reminded of this pain annually on Holy Saturday. In the drama of the crucifixion, the wailing and weeping before the cross on Friday turns to the empty quiet of Holy Saturday. The body of Christ has been buried. The Lord has been entombed. And there is silence. 

But the world is not quiet! There’s the silence of the church and the noise of the world. After Jesus’ crucifixion, the world continued to be a noisy place. That’s what crucifixions were meant to do: keep things going just as noisily as before. Ongoing traffic and bustle and buying and selling and mourning and drinking; everyday screech and clang and bang and complaints. Holy Saturday seems to be the common day—we can sense the uncomfortable silence while the world continues to be a noisy place.

There’s the noise of conquering kings and bullying bravado. The noise of leadership—people clamoring for attention and a following and recognition.

There’s the noise of war and conflict and fighting. Whether the clang and boom of tanks and bombs or the sound of Twitter mobs, the world is noisy. It’s noisy in physical and digital spaces.

There’s the noise of injustice. People appealing to rights, calling for fairness and equity. Humble requests and haughty demands are seemingly never-ending for those in ministry.

There’s the noise of death. The ongoing drone of food shortages, plague or pandemic, tragedies great and small.

There’s the noise of the martyrs. The ongoing wail of people pinched and persecuted for their faith. Loss of freedom, loss of job, loss of voice, loss of life in an effort to be faithful.

There’s the noise of anticipated judgment. The groanings of the world; the uneasy expectations of the rich; the low murmur of the poor. Justice is in all our bones. The noise isn’t simply from the outside. Our bodies internally shout for justice.


Pause for at least 2 minutes of silence. How do you experience the noise of the world? Is there noise in you? Which kind of noise seems most prevalent in your life and leadership? 


I have drawn each of these pictures of noise from Revelation 6. They are the seals that close up the scroll of history, keeping us from making sense of the contents. When John saw this bound scroll, he wept. An angel had asked, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” John weeps because there is no one able to break the seals, to cut the noise. But then an elder comes to him: “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5). Yes, the Lord has broken the seals of history. And so it is no wonder, then, that John writes this: “When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Rev. 8:1). 

What a delightful silence! A silence not because we do not know what to say, but because nothing needs to be said. Not a silence of ignorance, but of a silence of sheer awe. The scroll had writing on the front and back. John had wept for it could not be opened, but when it is opened, he can only participate in the silence, recognizing the glory, majesty, beauty and power of the one who has broken the seals. Heaven is impressed at its Lord and silence is the response. A golden silence in the golden city. 


Pause for at least 2 minutes of silence. Allow yourself to participate in the awe of heaven, to participate in the silence of heaven as the noisy world is silenced.


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But we are not yet there, are we? John’s vision was just that…a vision. It is a picture that reveals something true, but not yet completely fulfilled. It is a vision that could only be given from a new perspective, which is why John is called up into the Spirit (Rev. 4:1-2). There—above—the reality of Good Friday and Easter Sunday are fully seen. They see how the Lamb who was slain could open the scroll!

Revelation 5:6, 9-10 says this: 

Then, in between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a Lamb, standing as if it had been slain. It had seven horns and seven eyes, which are God’s seven spirits, sent out into the whole earth.

They took up a new song, saying,

“You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals,
        because you were slain,
        and by your blood you purchased for God
            persons from every tribe, language, people, and nation.
10 You made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
        and they will rule on earth.”

There—above—the reality of Good Friday and Easter Sunday hold true and hold together. But for us, without that perspective, it feels like we are in the silence of Holy Saturday. The noisy silence. But something else happens on Holy Saturday, friends. Do you remember the Creed? He descended to the dead

Yes, the silence of Holy Saturday, the noisy silence of Holy Saturday, should remind us of Christ’s descent to the dead. 

Dante pictured hell as a noisy place. Of course, the New Testament does, as well. Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. C.S. Lewis pictures it with kind of endless disputations—even a theological society clamouring on and on about nothing that matters! Popular culture recently gave us a similar picture of hell. In the NBC sitcom, The Good Place, people were permitted to hear hell for just a moment. And it was sheer noise. There’s a reason when we encounter chaos and strife and noise that we say, “All hell has broken loose!” But on Holy Saturday, the dead is a quiet place. It is silent. Our Lord descends and preaches. Because Christ, the true Christ, descends, hell falls silent. Christ’s faithful life given to his Father quiets the chaos. The Lord who was lifted high the day before now silences the noise down below. 


Pause for at least 2 minutes of silence. Allow the silence to reflect the silence of all accusers of those in Christ. Christ quiets the Accuser and the accusers.



Have you paused for silence? Have you participated in the Two Minutes Quiet? Silence is a discipline. Silence doesn’t simply remove us from the noise; it transforms us to attend to the noise differently. Richard Foster quotes Catherine de Haeck Doherty: “A day filled with noise and voices can be a day of silence, if the noises become for us the echo of the presence of God, if the voices are, for us, messages and solicitations of God.” 

Neither is silence passive. We are disciplined in silence not so that we do not act. We practice silence to practice the protection of God. We practice silence so that we can be entrusted to God. Silence is an active entrusting of the self to God. Richard Foster captures it well: “We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding.” Foster continues: “We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. If we are silent, who will take control? God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust.” 

We do not practice silence to be quiet forever. No, we practice silence so that our words will have weight. The Word of God came at just the right time. And when we are formed in the image of God’s Son, God’s Word, then he will come through us at just the right time, too. St. Augustine prayed, “Breathe in me so that my thoughts may be holy” and St. Francis urged that God would make him an instrument of peace. Well, one of our instruments is our voice and when a voice is used from the foundation of holy thoughts, it is a beautiful instrument of peace. But notice Augustine’s prayer: “breathe in me so that my thoughts may be holy.” Try to speak while breathing it. It is quite difficult. Silence is like taking a deep breath; it is drawing in the Spirit of God so that when our words are spoken, they are controlled by God and spoken from deep holiness. 


Pause for at least 2 minutes of silence. Allow God, in the silence, to transform the noise; to take up your cause; to make your thoughts holy.


Part V

Disciplines take embodied activity. Where can you practice Holy Saturday today? Do you have a chair in your apartment or house that can be the quiet chair? Do you have a daily school pick up where you can turn off the phone and turn down the radio just to be quiet? Is there a bit of the early morning or late night when no one else is typically awake and you can simply be quiet in God’s presence?

If you can practice silence, let it remind you of the silence of heaven: That the glory of the Lord is so rich that even heaven is quiet.

And let the silence remind you of the silence of hell: that the power of the Lord is so rich that the chaos of hell is quelled.

And let the silence be an act of trust: that God is in control, not only of the world but of you. 

Silence is not simply golden; it is godly.


Pause for at least 2 minutes of silence. And then gently return to your day.

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