When my son began singing Tim Hawkins, parody, “The Sound of Starbucks,” faint memories of a childhood melody crept into my brain. “The Sound of Silence” were the only words I remembered. Out of curiosity, I looked up the lyrics on YouTube. (The link is the cover by Disturbed.)
The song became known all over the world. I am certain tens of thousands of people gave thought to the words. Paul Simon, the writer, put the meaning simply: “The song is about the inability to communicate.” It is interesting that he also said he was trying to mimic Bob Dylan when he wrote the song (reference).
Simon understates the song’s meaning, or at least its impact. The combination of the haunting melody with the vision the lyrics describe is powerful.
Like some other secular creations, Christians would do well to learn from this song. In Simon’s vision, cold and quiet darkness is “disturbed” by a burst of light and noise. There are neon lights, lots of people, and lots of talking and singing, but as to the things that matter to these people? Nothing. The light and noise cover up what is really going on inside. In the midst of the flashes, parties, and noise, there is a deep silence crying out for attention … healing … truth … meaning.
You and I both know that happens in our churches … in us. Lights flash on stages. Singers sing powerful songs, and speakers deliver powerful messages, but beneath the noise, there is the sound of silence. We are promised that Jesus knows, Jesus hears, Jesus comforts. Jesus, we are promised, will pierce the sound of silence and touch our deep hurts.
That’s all true, but it is not the whole truth. The whole truth is that we are Jesus’ voice to bring comfort and understanding, his eyes to love and settle, his arms to pour out compassion, both to each other and to the world.
Who is answering your deep questions? When you don’t have the answers, who is telling you everything is alright? You don’t need answers, you need love. If you have someone to lean on, someone to face the darkness with you, then the answers, the future, are not so important. If you can say what you want to say without being condemned or, better yet, to be valued for asking the hard questions, then the love will be better than the answers.
Paul Simon’s “Sound of Silence” is a witness against the way society drowns out the deep, important, and beautiful things of life with lights and noise. Let’s not be guilty of the same in the church.
I talk about deep things and answer hard questions with people in my circle. We tend to think pastors have the answer, and sometimes they do. The truth is, though, that you and your brothers and sisters have the answer. I am not telling you to stay away from Sunday morning. I have two worship meetings I go to every week where the noise of worship helps me address the deep things lurking in my own silence. I give those things to God, and his presence washes and strengthens me. Afterward, though, I speak the truth with those who love me, and they tell me the truth. They love me, encourage me, and pray for me, and I do the same for them. Above all, we avoid “talking without speaking” and “hearing without listening” (lyrics from “The Sound of Silence”).
Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst” (Matt. 18:20). He did not say that so we could construct a theology of church and church discipline. He was promising that we can find answers. In 1 John 2:26-27, every “you” is plural. God promises “us” in those verses that we can come together and the Holy Spirit will give us everything we need, and it will be true. When the apostle John writes about “truth,” as he does so much, he is not talking about facts. Truth is a person (Jn. 14:6). Truth never talks without speaking, nor does he hear without listening. He hears our cry even when we don’t have the right words to say, and he speaks with an “anointing” that goes in us like a seed (1 Jn. 2:27; James 1:18-22).
What you need more than a good sermon is the anointing, given by Jesus to “us.” We need to add “y’all” or “you guys” to our Bible translations. That anointing will save us from talking without speaking and hearing without listening.