Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For Sunday, March 1, 2015
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Picking on some Platitudes
David W. Hegg
With spring around the corner some will take time to sort out their cupboards, garages, and the trunks of their cars. We used to call it “spring cleaning.” I’d like to suggest we do some sorting out of a few platitudes that need to be retired. Here are my nominations for the platitude junk pile.
“You’ll get past this.” I often hear this when someone has suffered a tragedy and some well-meaning friend thinks they are offering the one thought that will turn gloom into glee. The fact is there are many things we encounter in this broken, chaotic world that we will never get past. The death of a loved one, a catastrophic accident, a financial disaster, or a life-changing disease are just some things that often can change our lives for ever. The simple truth is we never “get past it” but in time we can learn to live in light of it. We can learn to cope with the ongoing consequences without allowing them to forever define who we are or what we can accomplish. But, to think we can rid our minds of these events and the sadness they bring is neither smart nor healthy.
Now for a trio of platitudes that you shouldn’t be using if you’re not in line with their ramifications:
“They’re in a better place.” We’ve all heard this one when someone dies. But let’s just think about this for a minute. I suspect most who say this are speaking of heaven as the “better place.” But, the concept of heaven is part of a worldview that believes in an afterlife, and such a worldview also recognizes the concept of a final judgment at which some are granted eternal life while others are judged unworthy and consigned to some sort of punishment.
In the Bible this is the doctrine of heaven and hell, but other religions have similar beliefs also. And while some will boast that they are looking forward to hell since all their friends will be there, it has never seriously been considered to be a “better place.” We are all smart enough to understand that not everyone is heading to a better place, especially if the deceased wasn’t given to godliness. When you tell us you’re sure they’re in a better place, are you willing to admit a conviction concerning an afterlife, heaven, and hell?
“Everything happens for a reason.” Once again this platitude demands a certain worldview, one that believes history has a definite plan being worked out perfectly under some sovereign control. Frankly, this represents a theistic worldview where the designer of the universe, who also controls all things according to his good pleasure, is personally involved with everything in our world. As R. C. Sproul has said in describing this worldview “there is not one maverick molecule” in this universe that is not under God’s control. So, if you’re not a theist, you have absolutely no certainty that “everything happens for a reason.” Unless you’re willing to live under this worldview, don’t go around pretending you believe it.
“Our prayers go out to the families …” Sadly, the situations where death invades the lives of people in a newsworthy fashion are multiplying today. And in each case, a newscaster or politician will lead with this platitude. But I have to ask: Are you really praying for them? And if so, what are you praying? Are even more to the point, are you saying that you believe in an all mighty, personal God who hears and answers prayers? And if so, are you declaring that you are living according to his standards, and therefore welcome to come into his presence with your requests?
You can see where I’m headed here. Too many people who have absolutely no regard for the theistic worldview that holds to a God who creates and sustains our universe still want to throw out these platitudes in order to appear helpful. But this is just hypocritical behavior masquerading behind a desire to be seen as insightful.
Maybe it’s time for anti-God, scientific naturalists to churn out their own platitudes. How about “nothing really happens for a reason”, or “after we die … poof … there’s nothing” or how about “these deaths weren’t evil because for evil to exist good must exist, and that would mean some sort of universal standard, and since we know that can’t exist, then there’s no use getting upset about the violent deaths of these folks so our advice to the families is ‘you’ll just have to get past this.’”
Here’s the deal: If you don’t endorse a theistic worldview, don’t use platitudes that are based on it. The fact is some people do die and go to a better place, but no all. And everything does happen for a reason. And prayers are a significant element in the world over which God reigns. But if you don’t want to walk the theistic walk, be ethical enough not to co-opt our theistic talk. Or better yet, give theism another chance. You might just find it provides the ethical foundation for the sentiment that still resides in the immaterial part of your humanity.