Iain Provan speaks of the lack of silence in our experience.
Silence is undervalued in the noisy, intrusive world that most of us inhabit. Constant traffic and chatter surround us in our public spaces, and where these are mercifully quieted for a time, their place is taken by endless radio music and inanity. We retreat to our homes, but then we voluntarily recreate the noisy world there as well. The TV provides constant background noise, whether it presses on us the fantasies of soaps and movies or the horrors of the endless daily chat shows, with their multitudes who want their chance to speak but in truth have little to say.
The evidence suggests that we are afraid of silence—discomfited by it and unable to deal with it. There must be noise—any noise. I have personally witnessed in our home the panicked disorientation of a young child, visiting for the afternoon, who was unable to locate a TV in our main living space and, without this comforting presence, seemed unsure what to do with himself. We have all met his adult counterparts, and perhaps we ourselves are some of those. We have, in essence, made it extraordinarily difficult for ourselves in all our technological sophistication to “be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
This is a tragedy, but it is also a perceived necessity. Silence gives us too much time to think, and thinking raises too many awkward questions we do not wish to address about the nature of reality and our personal identity and destiny. We live in a culture that therefore feels a deep need to push reality as far away as possible and uses noise to this end. We have become, corporately, the man in the doctor’s waiting room who feels compelled to break the silence with an asinine, jovial comment.
If it is bad enough that the culture should be of this inclination, it is entirely tragic that the people of God, who are called to witness to a different reality, should be found playing the same game. Christians, too, often inhabit all-too-noisy space. Their noise is more religious, perhaps, but it is still noise. “Worship services” provide little opportunity for silent awe in the presence of God but plenty of opportunity for performance on the part of a select few professional speakers and musicians, who fill all the space with their words and sounds. Other gatherings of the church are characterized by relentless activity. It is Christian activity, of course, but it still fills the space that might be taken by silent adoration. Thus, “church” comes to resemble simply another form of human group endeavor and indeed often comes to mimic in a serious way the culture around it that is supposedly governed by different values. “Church” is increasingly thought of in terms of organization rather than of people worshiping God together, and leaders bring business and management models to bear on its development—planning growth, programming success, and managing change.
Iain Provan, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 120–121.