“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom . . .” (Colossians 3:16a)
Truisms are little sayings that attempt to communicate what seems to be self-evident truth. For example: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The kernel of truth here is that apples are good for you. If you eat healthy foods, then you’ll reduce your chances of getting sick. The bigger picture, however, is that it would be unwise to think you’ll never need a doctor just because you’re an apple eater.
Herein lies the problem with truisms. These kinds of cultural proverbs, especially “Christianized” ones, can become so ingrained in our minds as truth that we never doubt their validity. They become “gospel” to us. This can create real difficulties because they often inoculate us to the full or real truth. The result is that they often cause more harm than good.
This is why God got miffed at Job’s friends/counselors. They were so entrenched in the cultural truisms of their day that they missed the bigger picture of what was really happening. This resulted in their counsel being abusive and confusing instead of comforting and helpful.
If we are going to be truly helped by the word of God and truly help others with the word of God, then, the word of God needs to “richly dwell within us.” In other words, we need to operate in truth, not in truisms.
There is no more harmful truism when counseling a hurting friend than this, “God causes all things for our good.” I can hear someone objecting, “Hey, that’s in the Bible, that’s God’s word!” Um, no it’s not. That is a misquotation and a misrepresentation of Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purposes.”
This particular truism is so harmful because it makes it look like God gave the person cancer or took away their child in order to teach them some kind of “good” lesson or to bring about some better “good” in their lives. It then forces them to figure out the secret purpose God had in mind for the tragedy that just happened in their lives. Does that sound like “the God of all comfort (2Cor. 1:3)” to you?
Here’s another harmful truism, “There are no gray areas with God; it’s only black or white?” Um, first off, where is that in the Bible? Secondly, look outside. Things aren’t gray or black and white. They’re in living color! But the most harmful thing about this truism is that it makes the one saying it the arbitrator of what God sees as black and white. It’s the legalist’s favorite truism.
You have probably already deduced that the substitution of truisms for truth is a “pet peeve” of mine. It really bothers me. I guess I’m bothered so much by it because of my counseling background. I’ve seen too many people hurt by well meaning, but misinformed, Christians.
My appeal to all us is that we quit reducing God’s Word down to platitudes and bumper stickers. This just misrepresents God and binds people up. Instead, let’s dwell often in the word of God so that the word of Christ will richly dwell in us.
Then, we won’t be like Job’s friends, causing people to trip over truisms when they need help. Instead, we can offer the living truths of God that lift up the downtrodden, comfort the depressed, and set the captives free (Is. 61:1-3; Jn. 8:32). We will also find that knowing God’s truth is even better for us than an apple a day.
© Paul R Downing