My friend H. and I carpooled from a birthday party with a woman named L. who is in the midst of divorce, her husband having betrayed their covenant multiple times. L.’s soon-to-be ex-husband is a charismatic man, and some of their 8 children have sided with him in the rending asunder.
My friend H. had also experienced the alienation of affection of some of her children after her own divorce, but after many years every one of those relationships has been restored. Therefore, L. asked H. if she had advice for her. I too listened expectantly. In characteristic modesty, H. told L. that she didn’t have much to say, and then proceeded to say something of enormous practical value: “I didn’t defend myself.”
Through all the recriminations and accusations of her children, H. had resisted the temptation to defend her actions in the marriage and divorce, whether right or wrong actions. Self-defense, which always involves throwing the other under the bus, is what people would expect in a situation like this. Self-defense may feel satisfying at the moment but does not make much of a positive impression, because it is so usual and common. It is the absence of self-defense—the baffling quietness and meek absorption of the slings and arrows of others—that makes an impression, because it is so rare.
To be more specific, the absence of self-defense is impressive because it makes people wonder what you have up your sleeve that you don’t mind so much being vilified. The non-self-defender is an object of intense curiosity: Why doesn’t she defend herself? What is going on in her head? Doesn’t she see that we have the power to destroy her? This was Pilate’s fascination with Jesus:
But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?" But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.(Matthew 27:12-14)
Jesus’ reason for silence was not different in kind from H.’s. The following psalm of David shows the secret they both knew, their treasure hidden in a field, as it were:
For God alone, my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I shall not be greatly shaken. How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence? They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. … For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. (Psalm 62:1-7)