Old Adages and the Death of Theology
“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie--deliberate, contrived and dishonest--but the myth--persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”
- John F Kennedy
We are a people dominated by old adages – familial, political, social, and theological. Everywhere we turn someone has come up with a way to summarize a common belief into a simple, reproducible phrase; but in doing so have missed the profound essence of truth itself. One of the great western lies is that truth can be captured, set in a box, and delivered to the masses. Truth, in fact, only takes root and explodes into life once it cuts through our calloused hearts – callouses formed by the cliché based belief systems we’ve inadvertently subscribed to over the years . This is especially dangerous since adages take up residence right beneath the surface, preventing us from digging into the real truth that lies beyond.
- John F Kennedy
Here are some common clichés that I think we should either discard or begin using with more discretion.
GOD IS IN CONTROL / EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON / GOD HAS A PLAN / ITS ALL IN GOD’S TIMING
God holds the authoritative place in the universe -- but that does not mean everything that happens is His will. All of these phrases exist to say the same thing: God has a purpose behind whatever it is you are currently experiencing. It's always easy to look back and see how God worked through whatever it was you experienced, but He works in all things for the good of those who love Him. This does not mean He caused those things -- it just means He took what Satan intended for evil and used it to bring about good. All these phrases are perfectly acceptable if you subscribe to the Calvinist framework – but many who use these phrases do not. When employing these phrases, it is entirely possible to suggest that God did something that Satan did or we did -- this is pretty close to blasphemy. Everything does in fact happen for a reason. But when people say this they are again suggesting that God did “this” for a reason. In reality, our own decisions have consequences and so do the decisions of everyone that lived before us. I could not stand more strongly on my belief that not everything that happens is God’s will.
I MADE JESUS LORD OF MY LIFE / I ASKED JESUS INTO MY HEART
No human has ever made Jesus Lord of anything. The Father did that in the resurrection and when He gave Him the name that is above every other name. We either submit to His lordship or we don’t. But our decision has no bearing on whether or not He remains Lord. Both of these phrases miss the mark because they accidentally trick people into thinking that they invite Jesus into their story – in actuality, Jesus invites them into His. This has a whole world of implications that I mustn’t venture into.
JESUS IS COMING BACK SOON BECAUSE THINGS ARE GETTING SO BAD
The world has been messed up since the fall. And times have been much worse, even from a morality standpoint, than they are right now in the United States. Jesus is coming back but it has been “the end times” since He ascended into heaven. He has commissioned His church to extend His reign on this earth while He is away. This idea that things are getting worse works against the logic of an expansive kingdom. Does God’s kingdom triumph over dark? Or does dark win? When we use this phrase we suggest to people that they are just biding time until Jesus comes back to get us out of this mess --- and in the process we miss commissioning them to do what the church is supposed to do: continue the work of Jesus on this earth, shining light into every dark place, and ushering in His ultimate reign.
BLESS THIS FOOD TO OUR BODIES
I am all about thanking God that we have food – but something just doesn’t feel right when I ask Him to bring health to my body as I eat a big mac, French fries, and a 32 oz Coke. One author suggests asking God to make these things good for our bodies is like jumping off a cliff and praying for God to catch you.
I’M ASKING GOD TO OPEN AND SHUT DOORS
I have prayed for this many times. But recently I have been convicted that King David didn’t operate under the assumption that an open door meant God’s will. After being pronounced the future king, he had multiple chances to kill the king and assume his rightful place – but he refused to take matters into his own hands.
ITS OKAY, NOBODY’S PERFECT / THE CHURCH IS FULL OF HYPOCRITES AND WE ALWAYS HAVE ROOM FOR ONE MORE
Again, true. This is a way to say, “We have fallen. And God is full of grace!” Yet this sentiment can undermine the command of God Himself to “Be holy as I am holy”. Holiness is a serious calling and constantly reminding people that they will never achieve the standard to which they are called is probably a bad idea.