Christians culture has fostered a lot of cutesy sayings, but just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it’s accurate.
You’ve probably heard at least some of these truisms in church before, but let’s take a second look at them. Because as catchy as they sound, they may be misleading, simplistic or only partly true.
All sins are the same. No sin is worse than any other.
All sins are the same in that they all separate us from God, but not all sins are equally damaging to ourselves and others.
It should be obvious that murdering someone is far worse than gossiping about your co-worker. Though Romans does say “For the wages of sin is death” (in the context of showing how our human nature is in need of salvation through Christ, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”), throughout Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, different penalties and consequences are assigned to different kinds of transgressions.
Forgive and forget.
Good luck with forgetting! We can’t realistically obliterate certain things from our memories. And fortunately, that’s not a necessary part of forgiving someone. Forgiveness means being fully aware of how someone hurt you, but choosing not to take revenge and loving her anyway.
Depending on the situation, we can figuratively “forget” the wrongs people have done to us by choosing to treat them as if those things never happened. But this doesn’t mean we have to trust untrustworthy people or make ourselves vulnerable to them again.
In his somewhat ironically titled book Forgive and Forget, Lewis B. Smedes writes, “The test of forgiving lies with healing the lingering pain of the past, not with forgetting that the past ever happened … You do not have to forget after you forgive; you may, but your forgiving can be sincere even if you remember.”
God isn’t interested in making you happy; He’s interested in making you holy.
This implies that holiness and happiness are mutually exclusive. What if holiness and happiness, as defined by God, are two sides of the same coin? Sure, it’s not exactly accurate to say “God wants us to be happy” if we define happiness by worldly standards or base it on temporal emotions, but He does want us to have fellowship with Him, which makes us both eternally happy and holy.
The Psalms are full of references to the happiness God gives us: “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11), “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Psalm 37:4), and “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food” (Psalm 63:5).
Christian tradition also emphasizes the happiness we can find in God, though it’s not based on earthly standards of “happiness” through getting everything we want. Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” Our enjoyment of Him is a testament to His glory. He above all is worthy to be enjoyed.
True happiness is not about us. It’s about God. It’s about being united with Him, which leads to wisdom and righteousness. We won’t have perfect happiness until we are perfectly united with God. But we can look forward to this as our destination, as the end for which we were created, says Thomas Aquinas.
During times of suffering, you’ll be closer to God because you have to depend on Him more.
You may feel closer to God when you’re suffering. When Paul was suffering from the thorn in his flesh, he learned to depend on God’s strength in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). He could even rejoice in his weaknesses and was content with hardships, because they revealed God’s power.
But Job’s experience was different from Paul’s. He longed for God, but couldn’t find Him (Job 23:3), and he vacillated between hope and despair throughout his time of suffering. So it’s OK if you don’t feel closer to God during hardships either.
If God feels distant, guess who moved?
Read Job, and don’t always blame the sufferer. Jesus Himself felt forsaken by God on the cross, but He wasn’t at fault. Sometimes we drift from God, yes. But other times, God withdraws for reasons that remain mysterious to us. It may be hard to tell who is moving away from whom. Don’t add to people’s pain by automatically declaring them guilty.
It’s easy to oversimplify complex issues. But we do ourselves a favor by seeking the truth instead of unthinkingly accepting truisms.