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Being the 'uncomfortable voice'

A blog about the need to be the 'uncomfortable voice' as well as the prophetic voice that shakes us up

Written by Richard Serrano TNE Advisor | 01 Dec 2022

A statue of Lady Justice outside a building in Jos, Nigeria

A statue on the theme of justice, in Jos, Nigeria. Photo: Steve Goddard/Tearfund

‘But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ”I have put my words in your mouth."’ (Jeremiah 1:7-9 NIV)

‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute!
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy!’ (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV).

More than mere sound

I'm not thinking just of sounds. Some people may be unable to make the actual sound of their voices heard; still, those voices deserve to be taken into account.

I am referring to a dignified presence, in the right place at the right time, to the courage and consistency of our opinions, to the responsibility of knowing how to say and do the right thing when necessary, even when it may not be the most popular thing to do.

Many of us, at one time or another, may have had to be the ‘uncomfortable voice’ in a particular context. It is often uncomfortable to say or hear certain things. But we have to see these discomforts in the light of what is just, necessary and timely.

I would like to make it clear from the outset that I am not justifying tactlessness or vulgarity. The Bible thoroughly rejects such foolishness and commends the use of wise or gracious speech, even timely silence. But the Bible also promotes the value of consistency between what we say (profess) and what we do (James 1:22-27).

Why uncomfortable?

The voice of a loved one can sometimes sound uncomfortable to our ears because what they say, however sensible it may seem, is not what we want to hear, or at least not at first. The voice of a teacher, boss, partner, spouse, friend, brother or sister, co-worker or partner in Christian ministry may feel uncomfortable. Even God’s voice can make us uncomfortable! (Genesis 3:10-11).

Often, this discomfort is due to the perception that we may have of the speaker, or to the fact that it reveals our inhibitions, weaknesses and other hidden human and spiritual processes (biases, assumptions, a failure to distinguish between people and their opinions, pride and so on).

It is not so much the finger that is pointed but the wound it exposes that makes us uncomfortable. Those who find it uncomfortable or difficult to say what needs to be said experience something similar.

Many of our discomforts have to do with our cultural norms, our experiences and background, or our theological outlook. We are uncomfortable with things that our different, fall outside our frame of reference, or push us out of our comfort zone. Sometimes we are also uncomfortable with something that threatens our sense of dignity, security or power.

The usefulness of an uncomfortable voice

God once proposed to a prophet the brilliant idea of speaking to a people who would not listen (Ezekiel 2:5; 33:11). Who wants to speak or sing in front of an indifferent audience? But sometimes it is necessary, and for various reasons.

  • The uncomfortable voice can serve as a testimony to God's character and will in any given moment or situation, such that he is justified (Psalm 51:4).
  • An uncomfortable voice can save a community from dangers it has failed to consider. An uncomfortable voice can call people back to God’s purposes.
  • An uncomfortable voice can lead to rich process of learning or unlearning (Acts 10; 15).
  • An uncomfortable voice can even be a way of expressing love (Hebrews 12:6-7; Proverbs 9:8).

So we should be neither proud nor cowardly, ‘For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline’ (2 Timothy 1:7).

Blessed discomfort!

The work of the Spirit can be uncomfortable because it shows us our sins and wrongdoings, seeking to convict us and lead us to glorify Christ in all we are, do and say.

Who doesn't find it uncomfortable, like the apostle Paul, to have to do or say what they don't want to, or not do or say what they do want to? And yet it is better to live uncomfortably than to survive comfortably! Blessed discomfort aligns us with the Kingdom of God and his justice!

I am thinking today of so many people who have to play the role of the ‘uncomfortable voice’ in their family, at work, within their circle of friends, their church or ministry, or in the public arena, etc. May God give them the wisdom to know when to be silent, and the judgement and courage to know when and how to speak, no matter the outcome, and especially of knowing that they do so ‘in the name of the Lord’ (Colossians 3:17).

I am thinking of the discomfort of Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and others when they did what they had to do for the sake of others. I am thinking of the discomfort of having to talk about certain issues, face certain problems, denounce certain injustices and make the proposals demanded by a particular situation. Do we experience or bear the costs of this discomfort?

Prayer

Let us think of the inevitable discomfort of having to carry out our work as people of faith in the service of justice, humanitarian response and the whole-life development of individuals, families and nations stricken by poverty and other forms of violence... Let us pray accordingly.

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Written by

Written by  Richard Serrano

TNE Advisor

Richard is an Advisor in Tearfund's Theology and Network Engagement (TNE) team in the Latin America and Caribbean region.

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