Clichés present an interesting challenge. We avoid them because they are overdone, but we use them because they contain threads of truth. And our conversation in the kingdom of God is no exception.
Clichés used in the Christian community are inspired by biblical truth, but also reflect a philosophical or theological bent. Though flawed when held up against strict scrutiny, most are relatively harmless and can offer great comfort in a time of need.
Did you know, “God won’t give you any more than you can stand?” Indeed the Apostle Paul once wrote, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) Where’s the flaw? Well, none really, as long as we understand God calls people to be faithful unto death. This means we might leave this earth in the course of standing up under temptation. So from a purely human standpoint, unless Jesus comes first, we will all finally succumb to the forces of our worldly existence. Yet, from an eternal perspective, God will always give us the strength to remain faithful to our last breath.
“God is good all the time!” and “All the time God is good.” It was also Paul who told us, “…in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28) This means there isn’t a single event in our lives God cannot incorporate into His ultimate plan and use for our good. However, we must remember “good” is in the eyes of the beholder. For example, God used the circumstances in the life of a dying criminal on a cross to bring him into contact with the grace of Jesus. “Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus said. Was death on a cross a good thing? Was the man who reached out to Jesus suffering for doing good? I think not. But God brought about good because of the dying criminal’s faith.
There are many others. “You can’t out-give God,” “When God closes a door, he opens a window” and “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” to name a few. Each of these is true in some ways and misleading in others. The reason we can’t depend on them wholeheartedly is because they don’t possess a biblical context to help us interpret how they should be applied to our lives. Rather, they come out of a human context and are vulnerable to manipulation for our own purposes.
So what are we to do? Personally, I don’t think we should campaign against clichés or argue with people who use them when they are struggling with their faith. But we should keep a couple of things in mind:
First, we should strive for honesty and never use a popular cliché to manipulate our circumstances. When God closes a door, he does open a window. However, the door He is closing might be the one He wants us to go through, and the window might be the very thing He wants us to avoid. Are we giving to the kingdom because we think the God who can’t be out-given will give us a better return on our money than the market? And have we settled difficult subjects of faith in our minds without examining the evidence for ourselves?
Secondly, it is important to keep our expectations in check. Because clichés don’t have a context we often make assumptions about God’s promises that have little or no substance. The God who told us He wasn’t going to allow us be tempted beyond our ability to resist didn’t say our illness wouldn’t return. He didn’t set limits on our pain or heartache. We need to be careful about projecting our personal desires on God and guard against creating expectations in others that have no foundation.
Ultimately, it is much better to root our hearts and minds in scripture than clichés. Even scripture can be taken out of context, but at least we have a recourse if we need to cross-check our interpretations and applications with the written Word.
I suppose the kingdom of God is always going to have a repertoire of clichés. And rightly understood, they can be a source of strength. After all, “if something works, God must be in it.”