There is a time for everything . . . a time to be silent and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7
For thirty long years, the African American woman worked faithfully for a large global ministry. Yet when she sought to talk with co-workers about racial injustice, she was met with silence. Finally, however, in the spring of 2020—as open discussions about racism expanded around the world—her ministry friends “started having some open dialogue.” With mixed feelings and pain, she was grateful discussions began.
Silence can be a virtue in some situations. As King Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: . . . a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7).
Silence in the face of bigotry and injustice, however, only enables harm and hurt. Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoeller (jailed in Nazi Germany for speaking out) confessed that in a poem he penned after the war. “First they came for the Communists,” he wrote, “but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.” He added, “Then they came for” the Jews, the Catholics, and others, “but I didn’t speak up.” Finally, “they came for me—and by that time there was no one left to speak up.”
It takes courage—and love—to speak up against injustice. Seeking God’s help, however, we recognize the time to speak is now.
Why is it important not to be silent during discussions about injustice? What hinders your willingness to engage in such dialogue?
Dear God, release my tongue and heart from the enemy’s grip. Equip me to see and feel the harm of injustice so that I may speak up for those hurt by this sin.
Ecclesiastes may seem pessimistic, and we might easily read today’s poem about time in a depressingly fatalistic light. After all, the poem begins by balancing the miracle of birth against the stony phrase “a time to die” (3:2). Essential to this elegantly honest lyric is the section that immediately follows (vv. 9–14). “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time,” wrote the wise author of Ecclesiastes (v. 11). Then he noted, “He has also set eternity in the human heart” (v. 11). This awareness of the eternal motivates us to look beyond ourselves (and beyond this time-bound earth) to discover true meaning. We find it only in the eternal One. “Everything God does will endure forever,” wrote the wise man (v. 14). We can live joyfully in the acknowledgment of this great eternal God, who gives us genuine meaning in this life and a forever future in the next.