I’m putting this up not because it’s original or new, but to get it off my brain.
On Truth and Helpfulness
A. The Basics
A1. There are statements that are always true.
A2. There are statements that are sometimes true, depending on definitions and points of view.
A3. There are statements that are always (or almost always) true, but often are unhelpful or even harmful.
A4. There are statements that are a spinning of the truth, but are nevertheless helpful.
A5. There are statements that are always false.
It is wisdom to be able to differentiate between these five kinds of statements. A wise person will put some thought (particularly when speaking to a grieving person) as to which category his words will land in.
B. To that end …
B1. It is not the case that all true statements are helpful. Many can harm.
B2. If you’re talking to a person in crisis, it’s quite possible that a statement that is usually true is not true for them. People in crisis are often exceptions. (Example: You should obey people in authority)
B3. Not all seemingly helpful statements are true.
B4. Saying a false statement is almost always unhelpful in the long run.
C. Considering helpful and unhelpful statements, there are two kinds of people:
1. Those who need to be pushed forward or spurred on (i.e. people who can be best helped by encouraging them to move forward and do more)
2. Those who need to be shown grace, rest, peace (i.e. people who would be best helped by encouragement that they are okay where they stand, at least with respect to the life issue at hand).
C1. This is why there is danger in giving blanket statements of encouragement to large groups of people.
C1B. (So discernment and grace should be employed by the listener)
C2. This is why definitions and disclaimers are often necessary.
C3. This is why seeking first to understand is often necessary. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
So – two examples (I’ve recently seen on Facebook):
Example 1. “God will never give you more than you can handle”
The truth or falsehood of this statement is almost entirely determined by your definition of the phrase “what you can handle”. I assume, for example, that when people say this, they imply the phrase, “with His help” on the end. Or, “If you’re a Christian” at the beginning. Given these additions, this statement is generally true.
But it is also often unhelpful and sometime harmful. I wouldn’t recommend it from a person whose life is fairly easy to a person who is in crisis.
Example 2. “Everything happens for a reason”
In the worldview of Calvinists (and many Arminians), this statement is generally true. But I’d be hesitant to say it to someone who is going through a divorce or the loss of a child.
D. Regarding the response of the listener (even a listener who is in crisis)
D1. When the person talking to you says something unhelpful, consider his/her intent.
D2. Does she mean well?
D3. Is there truth in what he said?
D4. If you’re listening to someone speaking to a large group with advice that doesn’t apply to you, are you an exception? Is what he’s saying generally applicable?
D5. God calls for grace from the speaker as well as the receiver.
E. Now with a mind towards the more spiritual and eternal, consider:
E1. The Gospel, told correctly, is always helpful.
E2. Nevertheless, it’s possible to share the Gospel unhelpfully.
E3. While a person’s primary reason for sharing the Gospel is to help another person move towards salvation by glorifying God, there are other good reasons.
E4. Among them are encouragement and exhortation (I leave the others as an exercise for the reader).
E5. There are also bad motivations for sharing the Gospel.
E6. Among these are brow-beating and pride (I leave the others as a second exercise for the reader).
E7. If your motivations for sharing the Gospel are bad, don’t stop sharing the Gospel. Rather, find better motivations. You can do this by being “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Included in “the will of God” is what you should say to your friend.
And included in “testing” is giving a few second thought before saying it.