Saying Something… by Saying Nothing

Accusers were lined up before Pontius Pilate, all false witnesses telling stories meant to condemn Jesus to death. There was no one to defend Him, no advocate. This was legal murder.

“But Jesus answered him not one word”(Matthew 27:14). His personal defense was…to say nothing.

Jesus could see four crowds surrounding Him. The first was this religious clique of pitiful accusers and liars. Another was the cloud of witnesses in the heavenlies, watching, listening. The third was a massive activation of more than ten thousand angels ready to instantly rescue Him if He would just ask. The fourth crowd consisted of sniveling, twisted dark spirits thinking they were actually, finally defeating God. And Father God was watching.

Everyone witnessed Jesus’ defense. He said nothing. He could not be misquoted.

The predetermined judgment was severe and cruel, to be unmercifully whipped, nailed to a cross, and left to slowly suffocate in excruciating pain until dead. The offence and shame was so humiliating and horrendous; He loathed it, despised it. But still He held his peace and answered not a word.

His silence spoke louder than their many words. R. S. Thomas noted that, “In silence there is no way to become the sport of reason.”

How many lepers were healed, blind eyes opened, crowds fed, and raised from the dead? Then, He considered the embarrassment of his dear, dear mother, his brothers and his family.

It was so horrendous it was doing something terrible inside to his body chemistry, and to his very appearance, marring his features beyond recognition. But still…He answered nothing.

How could He do this? Why? Was saying nothing a sign of inward social defiance and rebellion? Maybe it was really expressing silent words of hatred and disapproval.

The true answer He knew, looking deep inside beyond the travail of his tortured soul. All these people were slaves to death and eternal despair. Their only hope was his sacrifice. He had to do this…for them!

And yes! He totally wanted to do it. He loved them far beyond his own personal current needs. Seeing the never-ending salvation and joy He would experience together with the ones who would believe on Him, yes, He totally wanted to do this. It was worth it. And the message of his silence would never stop saying, “I love you…forever!”

So, his statement was a loud, thundering, definite…silence!

Let silence speak. No further communication is needed.


The non-verbal impact

Interpersonal communication research consistently shows that the greatest majority of communication is nonverbal. Speaking words communicates only about 10 percent of the real message. Our tone of voice, loudness, gestures, facial expressions and body language make the real impact.

When we sincerely want to connect with someone, well-intentioned words don’t always work. A caring silence often has far more power to heal.

Here’s the two-part rule: If our silence means something…we stay silent. However, if our silence is a lack of communication, then it’s time to use words.

“Communicate. Use words if necessary.” –Anonymous.

Research also shows silence misused is common in abusive relationships. Silence may communicate anger or disfavor and become like “talking to a brick wall.”

But the goal of interpersonal communication is not domination and winning, but sharing and reaching a mutually beneficial decision. We never lose when both benefit. “We” always lose when only one benefits.

Listening can effectively shorten the time to resolution.


How cultures communicate silently

Interpersonal communication studies show that different cultures vary in their reliance on words to communicate. One example is told of a scholarly Japanese elderly gentleman at the end of his flight.

When his contact said, “Oh, you must be very tired!” his response was simply, “Maybe.” He knew they were aware of the long flight, he was 75 years old, and they could see his weary walk. Japanese culture thinks it insults another’s intelligence to express the obvious. No other words were necessary.

Other cultures rely more on words to carry the meaning. For instance, many Americans or Europeans in the same scenario above might say, “Oh! You don’t know how tired I am! That was such a long flight, 22 hours ya’ know! We flew through three different storms on the way. And then…yes, there were two sick children on the flight! Oh! I’m so glad to be here! Would you show me to my hotel right away please? Thank you so much!” Were all those words necessary?

Jesus did not need to say, “I have been with you for several years. Lepers were cleansed, eyes opened, sick healed, children and people raised from the dead. You heard me teaching in your synagogues.”

Realizing ninety-percent of communication is non-verbal, Jesus spoke very loudly. No further communication was needed.


Steve Davis, Ed.S.  Steve is an adjunct professor (adult development), advisor to the Master of Arts in Theological Studies and International Student Representative at Trinity International University, Davie, Fl. He is a frequent speaker and copywriter.

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