The one thing that we Christians love more than quoting verses or Jesus Juking the heck out of situations is to come out with Christian cliches. We can’t help ourselves. They’re so engrained in our minds that sometimes it’s easy to forget where they came from in the first place.
The problem with cliches is that where originally there may have been some truth and wisdom in the meaning, they have become so overused that they are applied in situations which don’t require them at all. Or at least, aren’t very helpful.
It’s time to stage a Christian cliche coup d’é·tat. (Tweet this) I’m taking back Christian cliches and all that they stand for. Beginning with these four (and probably ending with these four too if I’m honest)
1. “I’m a Bible believing Christian.”
Let alone the problems with saying something like this and then being confronted with all those parts of the Bible e.g. that condone slavery, or capital punishment for adultery, this is a confusing one since there are a vast array of ways that Christians read the Bible. Some of us read certain parts differently than others. Some of us use the Bible as a way of controlling others and as a way proving we’re a better Christian. So what do we do with such a complicated library of books from different eras, different writers, different cultures and different genres?
One way is to start letting go of the need to control the Bible and shaping it into something it’s not, a rule book. To begin to see ourselves in the stories of people who constantly messed up in gigantic ways, to see ourselves in the crowds hustling to catch even just a glimpse of Jesus, to see our own stories of redemption in the hundreds of stories of redemption in the Scriptures. To allow the deeper truths to move us and breathe life into us. To meditate on the other worldliness poetry, imagery and to let truth soar through our veins in a way that is not about what we can or can’t do, but about who we all are.
2. “In the world but not of it.” (Or the “Left Behind” effect).
One of the biggest misconceptions Christians have is that our goal in life is to escape from Earth, save ourselves from an eternity in Hell and to somehow remain ‘pure’ until God whisks us away to Heaven while Nicholas Cage and Chad Michael Murray hang around here fighting evil. We desire to see the world changed but instead of going to the places that might need light the most, we keep them at arms length in case we get “infected”.
But when Jesus was on Earth He lived it up. He partied, He supplied wine for weddings. He was a carpenter so He was well used to connecting with the Earth. He threw banquets for thousands. His message was not one of here’s how to save yourself from the world, but here’s how to turn your life into the fullest it can be, now, in this job, at this meeting, in this traffic jam, at this party. He didn’t hide away with other church folk, He didn’t form cliques, He interacted with everyone, anywhere. He wasn’t afraid of those who were different than Him and He wasn’t afraid of somehow being tainted by sin.
If we really believe that Jesus is with us, then neither should we. Or we might truly be left behind.
3. “God’s ways our bigger than our ways.”
This is one cliche that I actually believe in, if it were’t for all the horrible ways we use it to ignore our pain. I think this is actually a true statement when we consider all the ways in which we limit God; expecting Him to turn up in ways that we demand of Him or through the people we approve of as “Holy”.
But here’s how we typically use it. When someone we know or even we ourselves go through something so painful that there can seem to be no reason or logic to why it happened, we come out with phrases like this to save ourselves from sitting in the pain with that person.
This isn’t something we say to help the other person, we use it to help ourselves from feeling uncomfortable.
At a loss for any real answer to why they’re enduring this thing right now, we tell each other that there is something in this difficult time that we don’t understand but which God has under control. Of course this can be comforting to a degree and true but ultimately it’s main use is to excuse ourselves from sitting and enduring the pain with our friends or families.
When we remove ourselves from real pain and don’t face it with each other head on, we’re essentially telling each other that Jesus just wants us to lump it. When we read Jesus’ death on the cross as simply the way we are saved from our sins we lose sight of something so beautiful that it could truly change our lives.
Jesus’s on the cross crying out to God, lonely and separate from His Father is Jesus telling us that our suffering is His suffering. He knows. He gets it. It doesn’t necessarily give us the answers our need for control desires but we know in that moment that the loneliness that Jesus felt is not ours. He feels the same pain we do.
In those days, months or years when the pain doesn’t lift, the best thing we can do for those in our lives facing darkness is to refrain from offering cliched sayings but to listen and cry with them and to be by their side. In those times, words don’t cut it and maybe we just need to keep quiet and share in their pain.
4. Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin
And now for my personal favorite. The worst thing about this one is that it makes the whole world black and white. There is no room for grey. There is no room for nuance. We paint a picture of the world where certain things are just sinful and we can’t get around it. So we disapprove of the actions of some, but maintaining a love for the person who exhibits the ‘sin’.
But what happens if the “sin” we want to control in others is part of who they are. Part of what makes them, them.
The most common time this saying is used is when talking about homosexuality. But here’s a perfect example of where separating a supposed sin from the person is harmful and damaging. If we tell someone who is gay and accepts that part of themselves, that we hate the gay part of them but still love them, you can see why so many in the LGBT community struggle in the church.
But suppose for a second that even if your opinion is one where being gay is a sin, knowing that there are those who have found peace with God and who they are, must wake us up to the realization that all we are doing is ostracizing them when we equate the very essence of who they are with something we hate.
Here’s another example involving naked people.
As a former porn addict I understand the murky water we tread in when humans struggle with something that effects us so deeply as an addiction. We try our best to stop because we feel right in our bones the pain it causes us and others. But we can’t. It doesn’t help “knowing” it is a sin.
That makes no difference to me at 3am in front of the images calling to me from my laptop. I know it’s a sin at a deeper level than just because there are a few Bible verses that condemn lusting.
But this is me. This is who I am. I’d rather it wasn’t but it is. I struggle. I succeed occasionally, then I fall down again. I think I have it under control, only to come crashing a day or two later.
So now tell me that you love me, whilst hating what I do, because right or wrong, this is part of me and I can’t believe both.
But sit with me for a while. Talk to me about the pain in my life. Talk about what I have been dealing with. Get to know me. Listen instead of talking. Then you will get to know who I really am. Then you can be in a position to help.
Because none of us are black or white. We’re all grey.
So what are your favorite Christian Cliches that we need to take back?
Great work Paul.
Thanks Gemma Brown 🙂