Unhelpful platitudes

by Barry Newton

This past Sunday the irony struck again. Amazement never ceases to fill me as I watch people assert the equivalent of a round square. Does this cause them to feel in the least bit disingenuous or uneasy?

I am left wondering about motives and beliefs. Did the stress of the funeral provide too strong a stare at reality? Did their convictions crumble under the pressure to be comforting? Or has perhaps their true beliefs leaked through, washing away their formal Bible class answers?

In its simplest form, the stage for this strange scenario can be set when someone affirms salvation is by grace through faith, not by works. If pressed on what this means, this Bible student readily acknowledges that we can not be good enough to earn our salvation. Accordingly, salvation is granted to those possessing faith in Christ.

Yet we can find this same person in certain situations, such as at funerals, highlighting the love, kindness and good deeds of an unbeliever to then conclude, “now he is in a better place.” What? Being a good guy earned him a spot in heaven?

In what is perhaps a more sophisticated form, an individual understands that receiving the benefits of Christ crucified involves trusting in Jesus by being immersed. Yet, this biblically literate individual later comments regarding an unbaptized believer, “She is now at home with her Lord.” How can this be, if it is true that faith in Christ requires relying upon Christ through baptism?

Consoling words are beneficial. They are even commanded for the disciple (Ephesians 4:29). Yet whenever a good priority, such as comforting another, is allowed to trample a more important priority, such as speaking the truth, the resulting behavior becomes bad.

History is strewn with seemingly well-intentioned individuals who apparently thought that an affirming word is always appropriate. At times the prophets warned against the comfort found in “Everything will be all right” because the truth was “everything is not all right” (Jeremiah 8:11).

So here’s the thing. If we are going to live with the integrity of a disciple we must avoid trampling priorities. To be sure, we need to seek to encourage, but this must always be accomplished under the umbrella of speaking the truth in love. For a variety of reasons, there is no love in offering false but comforting words. Not only do lies belong to the enemy’s camp and serve the father of lies, but those listening might latch onto the well-intentioned misinformation to guide their decision making.

Christians are to seek to use their words to encourage and build up others. But such affirmation and comfort can never come at the expense of speaking the truth.

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They have two boys attending university.

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