Even if you did not pay attention to the Super Bowl, you probably couldn’t completely escape the dizzying amount of media hype surrounding this icon of American culture. Like it or not, it does afford the opportunity to see into the soul of our country as players from both sides use the spotlight to champion causes both related and far afield from the game of football while the public tweets along. This year’s controversies featured melees on the issues of homosexuality and gay marriage, including the so-called “homophobic remarks” and subsequent apology of 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver. While the purpose of this article will not be to discuss these issues or judge Culliver’s actions, one thing which was particularly impacting about the coverage of this story was the obvious fact that while Americans hold dear the concept of free speech, the perception of the ethics of speech is deeply colored by a social etiquette influenced by the laws of this country. Simply put, the laws of our country often provide a moral high ground to stand upon, and violations are not only clearly perceived, but swiftly proclaimed heretical. When confronted with the combined weight of his team’s public image, the NFL’s interests, and the media’s relentless interviews, Culliver’s voice was effectively silenced. Repentance was his only choice. “Free speech” had become his undoing; perhaps he now wishes he had said nothing at all.
If human laws and customs, which are fallible and sometimes even corrupt, can have this kind of affect on a man, how much more an encounter with the Living God! Scripture is full of scenes where man is brought to silence before God. Mark Davis alluded to the great Divine interview from Job 38 a few weeks ago. Following 36 chapters of free-flowing conversation with his friends arguing his innocence before God in the face of his circumstances and his friends’ accusations, Job was confronted by God in the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to Me” (Job 38:2-3). The revelation of the Divine wisdom put Job’s perception of his own in perspective. We find out Job’s reaction a few chapters later: “I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5–6).
On first hearing, the content of Culliver’s apology seemed almost silly to me: “The derogatory comments I made yesterday were a reflection of thoughts in my head, but they are not how I feel…It has taken me seeing them in print to realize that they are hurtful and ugly.” Upon subsequent thought, they seemed disquietingly close to home. He had to be confronted with the reality of what he said before he believed he had done wrong. The Bible teaches that God’s law accomplishes this: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:19–20). God’s Law shows us our lives in full HD color, and the results are painful and breathtaking. We begin to see that not even the most heartfelt repentance can cover over what we have said and done; the effects of our sin permanently stain our lives, and as smoke infiltrates a garment, we and those around us cannot escape its odor. Under the Law of God, our freedom to speak only results in our condemnation. Can we ever speak anything else in His presence?
What is the solution? God Himself must grant us the freedom to speak, and He breaks our silence by giving us not merely words, but a new song to sing! Again, David says, “I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Ps 40:1–3). How does God bring praise out of the silence of our sin? For this to be possible, One had to come to release the death grip that sin has upon us. Jesus came, the Word made flesh, and entered into the silence of condemnation for us. Isaiah vividly portrayed what happens for us in the Gospel: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet He opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isa 53:5–7). Therefore we can join in singing to God songs like this one by Chris Tomlin:
I’m forgiven because You were forsaken
I’m accepted, You were condemned
I’m alive and well, Your Spirit is within me
Because You died and rose again.
Amazing love! How can it be
That You, my King, would die for me?
Amazing love! I know it’s true
Now it’s my joy to honor You
May all I do be all for You.