The Freedom of Not Responding

We love to respond. No, wait – that’s wrong. We NEED to respond.

Don’t we?

You know the feeling as well as I do. There is someone who brings something to us – it’s an accusation, it’s a criticism, it’s a rebuke – it’s a whatever. Someone does something or says something or insinuates something and we, in return, feel a compulsion inside of us. It’s a burning down deep in our guts. We. Must. Respond. And usually when that responds comes, it’s part and parcel with what has just been dealt to us. If it was anger, we respond in anger. If criticism, we respond with criticism of our own. If accusation, we respond with defensiveness. Whatever the case, we respond.

Curious, though, that Jesus did not feel the same need.

The prophet Isaiah predicted the non-response of Jesus:

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter and like a sheep silent before her shearers, He did not open His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).

The gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion reflect the same silence:

  • And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He didn’t answer. Then Pilate said to Him, “Don’t You hear how much they are testifying against You?”14 But He didn’t answer him on even one charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed (Matthew 27:12-14).
  • So he kept asking Him questions, but Jesus did not answer him (Luke 23:9).

Interesting, right? Maybe even a little maddening? It gets inside us a bit because of the injustice. Here, Jesus, being falsely accused and maligned with all sorts of groundless accusations and insinuations, and He responds with… nothing. Silence. A closed mouth. It’s such an unbelievably stark contrast with our undeniable compulsion of response. It’s almost as if Jesus has some kind of freedom that we do not have – a freedom whose fruit is silence. While we are enslaved by our need to have the last word, a clever quip, or some kind of drop-the-mic self-justification. Why, then, does Jesus have this freedom of non-response that eludes us? I would propose two reasons:

1. He knew who He was.

From the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus knew absolutely who He was and what He was here for. He was, and is, the Son in whom the Father was and is well pleased. He knew what He was about, and He was completely confident in His personal identity and mission. Even when the crowds wanted to hoist Him on His shoulders and carry Him to power, Jesus felt no need to succumb to their praise.

A big part of the reason why we always feel the need to respond in any situation is because we lack this assurance and confidence. We don’t know who we are, or at least we haven’t fully embraced it. We, because of Jesus, have become the sons and daughters in whom the Father is well-pleased, and because we are, we have no need of any more self-justification. If we truly internalized this truth, the truth of who we’ve become in Christ, we might find ourselves with an increasingly closed mouth.

2. He knew who they were.

Jesus didn’t just know who He was; He knew who His accusers were. In fact, He knew them better than they knew themselves. He knew they were deceived; unenlightened; slaves to the prince of the air and citizens of the world, fully indoctrinated into that line of thinking and believing. He knew this so well that He was able to pray for their forgiveness even as they put Him to death.

But us? Well, we are far more concerned about responding than knowing. We are much more focused on our next word than the heart that motivated the criticism or accusation. We forget, in a day and time of easy and cheap social interactions, that the ones on the other side of the tweet are actually people who are made in the image of God. If we knew who they were, we might be much slower to speak and much quicker to hold our tongues.

If you, like me, find yourself enslaved by responding, chained by the need to have the next and last word, then perhaps we can focus our eyes on Christ who lived in the freedom of non-response. And as we do, perhaps we will be reminded again of who we are in Him, and who the people are we desire so much to respond to.

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2 Comments

  • Carrie says:

    I heard somewhere that YHWH is the “real” spelling of Yahweh and that the way YHWH is pronounced (without adding vowels) sounds like breathing. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s interesting.

    And it’s made me think. When I’m wronged. When the kids are driving me crazy. When that guy cuts me off in traffic.

    If instead of responding with what wants to fly out of my mouth, what if instead, I take a breath? Or three? Or ten?

    What if simply breathing is literally giving God room to work in that instant?

    Is that WHY stopping to take a breath in the heat of an argument is such a beneficial thing?

    There’s a lot of grace found in taking the moment to take a breath. In that beat (or more) of silence.

    Other mental wanderings: babies practice breathing in the womb before they’re ever born. When we breathe our last, is that *visually* the Holy Spirit leaving our bodies and taking us with Him?

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