Max Picard




Silence and Faith

                                    1
   There is a relationship between silence and faith.
The sphere of faith and the sphere of silence belong
together. Silence is the natural basis on which the super-
nature of faith is accomplished.
   God became man for the sake of man. This event is so
utterly extraordinary and so much against the experience
of reason and against everything the eye has seen, that
man is not able to make response to it in words. A layer
of silence lies between this event and man, and in this 
silence man approaches the silence that surrounds God
Himself. Man and the mystery first meet in the silence,
but the word that comes out of this silence is original, as
the first word before it had ever spoken anything. That 
is why it is able to speak of the mystery.
   It is a sign of the love of God that a mystery is always
separated from man by a layer of silence. And that is a
reminder that man should also keep a silence in which to
approach the mystery. Today, when there is only noise
in and around man, it is difficult to approach the mystery.
When the layer of silence is missing, the extraordinary
easily becomes connected with the ordinary, with the
routine flow of things, and man reduces the extraordinary
to a mere part of the ordinary, a mere part of the mechanical
routine.
   What many preachers say about the Mystery of God
is often lifeless and therefore ineffectual. What they say
comes only from words jumbled up with many thousands
of other words. It does not come from silence. But it is in
silence that the first meeting between man and the
Mystery of God is accomplished, and from silence the
word also receives the power to become extraordinary as
the Mystery of God is extraordinary. It then rises above
the order of ordinary words, just as the Mystery of God
rises above the ordinary routine of things. It is as if words
had been created for nothing else but the representation of
the extraordinary. Thereby they become identical with
the extraordinary, with the mystery; and thereby they
have power akin to that of the mystery.
   It is true that man is able through the power of the 
spirit to give an elemental force to words, but the word
that comes from silence is already elemental. The human
mind has no need to spend itself in giving the word an
elemental force that has already been given to it by the
silence. The silence helps the spirit in man.
   It is possible, too, that man could keep himself in the
faith through the spirit, but the spirit would always have
to be on the watch, always on guard, and faith would
cease to be natural and effortless. And the effort required,
not the faith itself, would then appear to be the important
thing. A man who made such a great effort to believe
might appear to himself as one to whom God Himself
has directly committed the faith, as one saddled with the
faith by God Himself. And he might seem to himself
to be a prophet. It is true that the faith is extraordinary,
but what is extraordinary is nothing to do with the
external conditions of faith, not the effort required to
believe. When the natural basis of silence is lacking, then
the external conditions rise indeed to the level of the
extraordinary.

                                    2
   The silence of God is different from the silence of men.
It is not opposed to the word: word and silence are one
in God. Just as language constitutes the nature of man,
so silence is the nature of God; but in that nature every-
thing is clear, everything is word and silence at the same
time.

          The voice of God is not a voice of nature, or of all the
          voices of nature put together, but the voice of silence. As 
          certainly as the whole creation would be dumb if the Lord
          had not given it the power of speech and as certainly as
          everything that hath breath should therefore praise the
          Lord, just as certainly only he hears in all voices the voice
          of the Lord Himself, who hears the voice that is inaudible.
          (Wilhelm Vischer) 

   Sometimes it seems as though man and nature only
speak because God has not yet spoken, and as though man 
and nature are silent because they have not yet heard
the silence of God.
   The silence of God is transformed by love into the
Word. The Word of God is a self-giving silence, giving
itself to man.
   If a man like Paul "has heard unspeakable words which
it is not permitted to man to utter", then this unspeakable
word falls like a heavy weight into the silence of man. It
makes the silence deeper, and the word that comes from
the depths in which that which is unspeakable lies, has
a trace of the divinely Unspeakable in it.

          I was in the heaven which receives the greatest light and
          saw things none can say who come down from hence; for 
          our spirit hastens on the paths of its yearning into bound-
          less depths and cannot find its way back.
          (Dante, Paradiso) 

                                    3
   In prayer the word comes again of itself into silence.
It is from the very outset in the sphere of silence. It is
taken up by God, taken away from man; it is absorbed
into silence and disappears therein. Prayer can be never-
ending, but the word of the prayer always disappears into
silence. Prayer is a pouring of the word into silence.
   In prayer the words rises from silence, just as every
real word rises from silence, but it comes out of it only
to travel straight to God, to the "voice of the ebbing
silence."
   In prayer the region of the lower, human silence comes
into relation with the higher silence of God; the lower
rests in the higher. In prayer the word and therefore
man is in the center between two regions of silence. In
prayer man is held between these two regions.
   Elsewhere, outside prayer, the silence of man is fulfilled
and receives its meaning in speech. But in prayer it
receives its meaning and fulfillment in the meeting with
the silence of God.
   Elsewhere, outside prayer, the silence in man serves
the word in man. But now, in prayer, the word serves
the silence in man: the word leads the human silence to
the silence of God.

          The present state of the world and the whole of life is
          diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice,
          I should reply: Create silence! Bring men to silence.
          The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of
          today. And even if it were blazoned forth with all the
          panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of
          all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word 
          of God. Therefore create silence. (Kierkegaard)