Just because they’re clichés doesn’t mean they aren’t true

January 29, 2014

I’m not a fan of reciting platitudes, so maybe I would avoid saying these ten things, too. But that doesn’t mean that these platitudes aren’t mostly true, despite what Sojourner‘s Mark Sandlin says.

Take #8 on Sandlin’s list: “God never gives us more than we can handle.” How is that not true? I just preached last Sunday on James 1:1-12, in which James tells us to “count it nothing but joy” when we suffer any kind of trial. I assume any means “any.” Or what about Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:3: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

“God won’t give you more than you can handle” seems like an accurate enough paraphrase of this scripture, right?

Sandlin writes, “Ever tried saying this to a person contemplating suicide? No? Well, of course not.”

Well, yes… We have to discern whether it would be pastoral helpful to say this to someone in the midst of suffering. But it’s still true, whether we say it or not.

Or what about #10? “Everything happens for a reason.” Sandlin writes:

Implied in this is a very specific understanding of how God interacts with the world. Specifically, it says God directs all things. So, mass murders? God had a reason for that senseless act of violence. Stubbing your toe on the door frame? I guess God wanted to smite your toe.

This way of seeing God turns us all into puppets — God’s little play things who really have no freewill. Do you truly think a god needs toys? If so, do you really think we’re the best toys God could make to play with?

I disagree: God does direct all things. This is clear on nearly every page of the Bible. God can direct all things, however, without at the same overriding human free will. So mass murders happen because people make evil choices under the influence of the devil. Perish the thought that this is God’s will! Every time someone commits mass murder, however, God had the power to stop it but chooses not to. We may even have prayed about it, and he didn’t grant us our petition. Why?

Unless we believe that God is capricious, it isn’t wrong to say that God let this evil thing happen for a reason.

Granted, in the old days of polytheism or even Manichaean dualism, these questions were easier to deal with. You had good gods and bad gods, forces for good and forces for evil: which one “wins” in any particular instance would be anyone’s guess. 

But monotheism introduces an interesting “problem,” if you want to call it that. We believe that one God ultimately takes responsibility for good and evil. When evil happens, it isn’t his will, but it’s also not beyond his providential care to redeem.

Honestly, my favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:28. If that’s true, then I can’t see, logically, how “everything happens for a reason” isn’t also true.

I could go on to other items on the list, but you get the idea. As it is, I only agree wholeheartedly with Sandlin on numbers 6 and 9. What do you think?

4 Responses to “Just because they’re clichés doesn’t mean they aren’t true”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I’m not sure that God won’t give us “more than we can handle.” He just won’t give us more than what HE can use transformatively. I think there can be any number of things that can happen to Christians which lead them to “collapse” under the load. But God still is at work; and, at work for our ultimate good. (However, a caveat to “for our good”–for our good IF we are “informed” by it, as I believe the King James puts it. Thus, a spanking is intended for the child’s good, assuming a good parent, as God is. But, if the child nonetheless “bucks,” then the good intended may not eventuate. Not the parent’s [God’s] fault that it ended up that way; but, despite the good intent, still bad can follow.)

    Case in point (reluctant as I am to put this out there this way; but, why not?). I attempted suicide at a certain point because of how everything looked (affected by my bipolar disorder). Fortunately, God foiled the attempt. (Great story, but I won’t digress.) So, the circumstances were “more than I could handle”; but, God still acted in a redemptive fashion–and here I am, making great comments on blogs! 🙂

    As far as everything happening for a reason, I generally accept that, but with the small caveat that everything does not have to have great “significance.” Thus, hitting my toe may be nothing more than an indication I should be more careful, as opposed to God “trying to tell me something” of some significance. Are all car wrecks God “speaking”? As to that particular, the answer is more questionable, but I think there are at least some things we might call “the ordinary exigencies of life” in a fallen world. Not necessarily “significant” in their own right.

    • brentwhite Says:

      So we agree that they are both generally true with the proper qualifications and caveats. As for an event being “significant,” we only use the aphorism in the first place when an event rises above a certain threshold of significance.

      What I would ask of this author (and others who agree with him) is to consider the kind of god we’re left with if these statements aren’t generally true.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        I agree that the comments are “generally true”; i.e., if God were not “on his throne” regardless of what was transpiring, how could we be confident of his protection of us? And why would we pray, if we felt there were things happening to us God could do nothing about?

      • brentwhite Says:

        Yes, yes, and yes!


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