“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words strike me these days because the behavior he identifies in this quote is all too prevalent in modern society. While there is too much hateful or careless speech and action going on in society, it is equally true that there is a general failure to speak righteously or act righteously, whatever the situation may call for. “Silence in the face of evil” is a pretty good summary for that conversation that should be had with someone else but doesn’t happen because of fear or a desire to hold power over a situation. Jesus encourages direct, open, loving, truthful, face-to-face communication in Matt. 18:15, but in cases of real conflict, it rarely happens.
Bonhoeffer still calls this inaction “action,” and he’s right. The inaction still serves as an active threat to the other, a chance to hold an illegitimate power over the other person. By not doing as they request–or as God desires–the inactive person is actively pursuing his or her own unrighteousness. In the psychological world, it’s called “passive-agressive behavior” and while all of us are guilty of it at least to a small degree, it can be quite chronic, especially in those who distrust authority or who fear expressing their feelings openly. It’s a strange combination of power and fear that causes someone to actively agitate someone else by doing nothing.
And it’s also evil. It makes the other person the enemy, when Paul reminds us that flesh and blood are never our enemies, only the devil (Eph. 6:12). The devil doesn’t want people who are in open conflict coming together and reaching some sort of understanding and/or reconciliation. That’s heresy to him, but it is righteousness to our God. Jesus left His high and lofty throne to condescend to enter our human flesh to confront the devil squarely and directly, to preach to sinners who needed saving face-to-face, to directly heal the sick, and throw himself actively between us and the devil by His cross.
Now risen from the dead, He is present with us always. He comes face-to-face with us in His Body and Blood for our forgiveness, bringing reconciliation with God and with one another. He doesn’t fail to deal with us directly or leave us to our own fate. He comes face-to-face with us and our sins and brings the salvation only He can bring.
There is no question that for Christians who still bear a sinful nature, this active and direct reconciliation is still a difficult thing. Still, by the power of His Gospel to us, we can administer the Gospel to others through such behavior. Forgiveness of others may indeed be the highest privilege of being Christian. To withhold such a wonderful gift would be an absolute crime. To “dole it out” to those who have sinned against us, or to receive it as a gift from those whom we have wronged, is a great privilege, one we should not cheat our God and ourselves from.
Christ has forgiven you. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Praying you will all actively practice Christ’s righteousness,