What helps people when they’re hurting? Christianity has help and hope for all people in every situation. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to pull out the correct and helpful Christian response to every situation on a moment’s notice. The Bible is a big book to search through and reflect on, and it can be easier to apply a pat cliché in a moment of crisis. I know I’m one of the worst at this. When a friend is heartbroken and sobbing, it’s hard to find something to say that does not seem either trite or unfeeling. If I say, “It will all work out. God brings good even out of evil,” it sounds like I’m not taking her problem seriously. If I say, something like “Well bad things happen to good people,” or “It is God’s will,” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” it still sounds like I’m being insensitive or dismissive. Of course, nobody wants a full-blown lecture or a sermon at the moment when they’re experiencing grief or trauma either.
So what do we do when we know our beliefs hold real, meaningful answers to all of life’s struggles, but we don’t know how we should share them or how they will be received? Any effort we make to share the truth and say whatever we can to help is better than saying and doing nothing at all. The good news about Christianity is it is not a religion made up of hollow sayings or the words of dead men. It is a religion of a living, ruling, guiding God, and the Holy Spirit is always at work to breathe life and meaning into whatever humble words we might say.
Still, many of the things we might say to represent our Christian beliefs may not represent clear thinking about Christianity or actual biblical concepts. Instead, the catchy phrases we may have heard other people say, while they may be pithy, memorable, or sensible, are not actually statements drawn from Scripture or a good foundation for theology. Then again, while some statements refer to biblical truths, they may not be phrased or expressed in the best way.
I recently came across some material by a pastor, Adam Hamilton, who discussed a few half-truths that exist among common Christian sayings. For example, “God helps those who help themselves.” Now, this statement perhaps alludes to a certain biblical concept that those who want to eat must be willing to work. But in fact, as far as Christian theology goes, the opposite of that statement is true. Through grace alone, God helps those who absolutely cannot help themselves. This is the basic principle of salvation – that we cannot help ourselves in any way, and so Jesus must step in on our behalf to do what we cannot. And the sense of mercy and compassion for the weak and destitute bleeds over into the Christian response to the impoverished, the disadvantaged, and the oppressed.
Another example of a saying that actually is drawn from a scriptural truth but is misphrased or misinterpreted is “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Now this concept is basically drawn from 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says, “God won’t allow you to be tempted beyond your abilities. Instead with temptation, God will also supply a way out…” This Bible verse speaks specifically about temptation. But often, the saying is used to refer to some trial or burden that a person is facing. And in that case, once again, the full truth is that man’s humility and fragility comes into play and it is quite possible that one might face a test greater than he or she can bear alone. We should not say, “This is not more than you can handle,” but instead, “God will help you handle this.” Perhaps, we could also say, and demonstrate, “Your Christian family and friends will help you bear this.” The Christian life is not meant to be a solo run based on human endurance. It requires spiritual unity, trust, surrender, and dependence on God. In life’s greatest and most painful crises, we must turn to God for strength and comfort and guidance beyond our own abilities.
In these two examples that were described by Adam Hamilton, speaking the truth, fully grounded in Scripture and not garbled in some stock slogan, is much more helpful and less potentially hurtful to a person in the midst of suffering. If we could say something like “God will help you handle this – even when you cannot help yourself,” doors to understanding God and the gospel might be opened more often for unbelievers – and meanwhile believers could be reminded and revived by the comfort of real biblical truths in the midst of whatever they face. As the outcome of proper understanding and application of Scripture, we might see people’s mindsets and the culture change for the better, even as we have more vivid opportunities to recognize God at work.