The Silent Treatment
Isaiah 6 v 1-8, John 3 v. 1-7.
Since this is Father’s day, I thought it would be appropriate if I said
a few words especially to Father’s this morning. The subject I want to
talk about is ‘the silent treatment’ – I’m sure all of you dad’s have
experienced this extremely refined form of torture. Now I don’t want to
give anything away of a strategic nature to our beloved and better halves
– so I’m going to turn the mike off for a second so that only the Dad’s
(Turn mike off and proceed to speak without uttering a sound for 30
seconds or so.) (Turn mike back on and start speaking again).
Now I hope those pointers will be a great help for all you guys next
time you get the silent treatment. It’s a funny thing though, you never
find out exactly what you did wrong, at least in our house anyway, you get
these pointed statements that just stop short of revealing exactly what
the problem is and how you could actually do something about it. But
that’s not the point you see, the point is not to solve the problem, the
point is that we suffer for . . . . . .well we’re not quite sure what
we’re suffering for.
The first thing I do is figure out which month it is – just to make
sure I didn’t forget a birthday, second check is for the anniversary – “oh
good we’re still in June – a whole month to forget that one!”. The second
thing to do is find a safe place to hide, I have a barn so I’m pretty
lucky, but a garage or a workshop is just as good. The Church office is
pretty useful for hiding in too! The next thing is to perfect the art of
not looking directly at one’s beloved until the silent treatment is over.
This is to avoid THE GLARE. The Glare is a powerful weapon, and should it
catch you full in the eyes, well, you’re just finished – so at all costs –
avoid the Glare. In my experience the best thing to do is find a job that
takes all your time and attention for a few days and just go get on with
it, making it very obvious when you do meet ‘you know who’ how much your
enjoying life and particularly enjoying the opportunity to get this big
The Silent Treatment.
Isaiah was getting the silent treatment too, not from his wife but from all the people
around him. From verse 9 on:
Be ever hearing, but never understanding; Be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make
the heart of this people callused; Make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise
they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And
turn and be healed.
As we read this passage, it is hard to understand. Why would God send
Isaiah out to say words that would never be understood, that would never
cause people to turn to God. It seems such a waste to us. The passage is
unintelligible to us! We are among the people that do not understand what
this particular silent treatment is all about. We don’t understand because
to us, what matters is results. We want to see students getting high
marks, businesses making money, Churches getting filled with people,
people living changed lives for God. There’s nothing wrong with any of
those things – in fact in their own way they are all quite laudable. But
that’s not where God is at, and neither is it where Isaiah is at. I
recently watched a movie called Paradise Road. It has been out for some
years, but I had never noticed it before. It is about a group of women who
are held in a concentration camp in Sumatra after the fall of Singapore in
They are treated atrociously by the Japanese jailers; beaten, tortured;
one Chinese woman was even burnt alive for smuggling quinine into the camp
to help another woman with Malaria. The women’s eventual response to this
treatment is to form a voice choir where they reproduce awesomely
beautiful classical music. The jailers cannot understand this and break up
the choir practices with violence. Eventually, though the jailers too
succumb to the beauty of the music and sit and listen. Paradise road is a
movie about silent treatment and it also happens to be a true story.
Paradise road is about women who dared to express the wondrous beauty of
life in the most godforsaken hell on earth.
Where is Isaiah at? Isaiah is in the presence of the Living God, huge,
awesome, immense before tiny Isaiah. Thundering and shaking. The angel
voices beat through his body. Isaiah is ruined, it seems pulled, bone from
bone. His body aches all over. He is consumed with the extreme holiness
and purity of God. “God, help me” cries Isaiah, weeping, flat out, near
dead on the floor. An angel flies with a burning, hot coal and touches his
lips with it. Scalded, blistering, bloody, his lips are sealed, but he is
purified, no longer unclean, but clean like a new-born babe. As the voice
of God booms across space and time “Whom shall I send?”. Tiny Isaiah, lips
cracked and bleeding, whispers to the floor, “Here am I. Send me!”. Isaiah
is not concerned with his theology marks, he is not concerned with how
much money he has in the bank, about how full the Church is, or not.
He has met the Living God, and barely survived the experience. An
experience he can never forget, that haunts him day and night, an
experience that drives him, forces him to speak of God as he sees the
lackluster lives being lived around him. They give him the silent
treatment. They do not listen to his sermons. They do not fill his pews.
They do not understand this crazy fanatic who calls out about God’s
impending judgment. How long? How long? Cries Isaiah in his prayers. How
long do I have to put up with this, I long to be back in Your Holy
Presence. How long? God’s answer should chill us to the bone:
Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, Until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged, Until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land
is utterly forsaken.
In other words until they are devastated before me as you were in the temple
Isaiah. There is no alternative, either know Me in the devastation of worship, or you will
be forced to know Me in the devastation that is life and death on earth.
Maybe God is giving us the silent treatment, waiting for us, hoping that we will choose
worship instead of a life of hellish disappointment.
You must be born again says Jesus to Nicodemus. Such language was nonsense
to Nicodemus unintelligible. Nicodemus was like the unclean people around Isaiah
they could see something amazing had happened to Isaiah. But what? Nicodemus could
see everyone was listening to Jesus, but what was Jesus saying that was so significant?
Born again of the Spirit? Ridiculous! Nicodemus looked, but he did not see, he listened
but he did not hear at least at first. We know from later in John (John 19:39)
where we see him bringing 75lbs of myrrh for Jesus burial that Nicodemus did see and
understand in the end. We dont know about Isaiahs countryfolk.
Have you seen? Do you understand?
Some people ask me, how are YOU going to fill the empty pews? Some gentler people say,
how are WE going to fill the pews? How are WE going to get more young people into Church?
I dont hear God answering these questions. Maybe God is giving us the silent
treatment. Maybe God waits for us to ask the right questions. Maybe God waits for us to
ask: How can we see? How can we understand?
Maybe God waits in silence until we begin to ask, God show yourself to us like
you did to Isaiah. Devastate us, scald our lips with burning coal that we may be
purified. God, ask us Whom shall I send?.
Of course, if we ever ask that question, then God will certainly answer it so we
had better be jolly certain we want it answered.
Will we say, Here am I, send me. ?
The people will look at us and not see, hear us and not understand. They will give us
the silent treatment. But, we will not care that pews are empty, for our focus will be on
the Living God, all our mind and thought and praise will be for our awesome, loving Daddy.