Being Silent about Evil - What Does the Bible Say?
By Whitney Hopler, Crosswalk.com
When we see evil happening in our fallen world, it naturally upsets us because we know in our souls that it’s wrong. But do we speak up about it, or do we stay silent? Calling attention to evil is important yet challenging. Should we speak up or not when we witness something wrong, like lying or bullying? How should we respond to news stories of evil, such as violence and corruption, raging in our world? What does the Bible say about being silent about evil? Learning that is vital to answering our call from God to overcome evil with good.
What Does it Mean to Be Silent about Evil?
Being silent about evil means ignoring the opportunities God gives us to do something redemptive in the evil situations we encounter. It involves neglecting to bring attention to evil that’s happening, rather than speaking up about it and taking action for justice. When we choose to be silent about evil, at best, we’re not helping to stop it, and at worst, we’re helping that evil situation progress. Being silent about evil is essentially like agreeing with that evil. When we realize that our passive silence is actually an active choice not to stand against evil, that can motivate us to stop being silent about it.
What Does the Bible Say about Being Silent about Evil?
The Bible has a lot to say about how to deal with evil, and as part of that guidance, God’s Word helps us discern how to speak about it. Simply being silent about evil isn’t biblical. Romans 12:21 tells us clearly: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We must speak about evil in order to act against it. Leviticus 5:1 points out that staying silent about evil is a sin for which people will be held accountable: “If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.” James 4:17 declares: “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” If we know that God is calling us to speak out against evil but choose to be silent despite that, we’re sinning.
However, the Bible also calls us to speak wisely – including recognizing the best times and ways to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us that there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.”
We are meant to be silent in circumstances where we can’t speak about evil carefully, and therefore may make sinful situations worse instead of better. Proverbs 10:19 cautions: “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” Sometimes, if we speak without caution about evil, we can become caught up in it. Amos 5:13 describes the wisdom of staying silent in those cases: “There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore, the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” Galatians 6:1 also addresses the need to speak carefully when dealing with sin: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” Proverbs 21:23 tells us: “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.”
We are meant to speak up about evil when God leads us to point out sin or confront injustice. In Isaiah 58:1, God urges speaking up about sin: “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.” Ezekiel 3:18-19 urges speaking out to warn people who are sinning: “When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.” The Book of Esther tells the story of Queen Esther, who seeks God’s guidance for how to best speak out against evil plans to annihilate the Jewish people. When the right time arrives, Esther’s cousin Mordecai encourages her to speak up with these words: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Ephesians 5:11 exhorts us: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Proverbs 31:9 encourages us to speak up against the evil of injustice: “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Isaiah 1:17 advises: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/lolostock
3 Ways We Can Stand Up Against Evil
So, whenever God calls us to stand up against evil, it’s important to respond faithfully. Here are 3 ways we can stop being silent and start speaking up about evil:
1. Speak up when God calls us to do so – even when we’re afraid. It’s vital to be willing to act whenever we sense God calling us to say or do something in response to evil. Because God often works through people, we could become part of a miracle simply by saying “yes” when God nudges us to proceed, I write in my book Wake Up to Wonder. The more we choose to respond with faith rather than fear when God calls us to do something, the more God’s love will cast out our fear. 1 John 4:18 promises: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” We don’t have to wait until we feel courageous enough to speak up about evil. We can simply ask God to help us when we’re afraid, then receive his love to empower us to overcome our fear. Then we’ll be bold enough to speak against evil. In the process, we’ll experience the wonder of becoming part of God’s redemptive plan to overcome evil with good.
2. Keep praying for God’s help. Communicate with God often through prayer and ask for his help to stand up against evil. Ephesians 6:12-13 points out the reality that we need to battle evil often: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Through prayer, we can put on the armor of God that is mentioned in Ephesians 6:14-17, and “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” as Ephesians 6:18 encourages us to do. That will welcome God’s power into every evil situation we encounter.
3. Steadfastly resist evil and cling to good. Stay committed to joining God’s redemptive work in the world. When describing how to put God’s love into action, Romans 12:9 advises: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” We can choose good over evil day by day by letting God’s love flow through our lives. By asking the Holy Spirit to renew our minds every day, we can see situations from an accurate perspective and boldly confront evil. When we do so, we’ll be connected to God regularly, which will empower us to stand up against evil victoriously.
The Bible says that being silent about evil is usually not wise. We should only be silent if we can’t speak about an evil situation carefully at a certain time. But we should be willing to respond faithfully whenever God calls us to speak out against evil. Neglecting to do so is like giving evil permission to continue. While standing up against evil can be challenging, we can rely on God to help us do so in all circumstances when we trust him for help. God will give us important opportunities to join him in his redemptive work. By doing so, we can become part of the miracle of good overcoming evil in our world.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/AaronAmat
Whitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and Facebook.