5 Common Expressions I’ve Never Understood
Common sense may be more common than sense. There are any number of shorthand aphorisms in the world and in the church that shape our thinking, but don’t stand up to scrutiny, at least right away. Below are five common expressions that might fit under the banner of common sense, that I just can’t make sense out of. There may be good arguments behind all or some of them, but that is rather a far thing from being a self-evident truth.
1. We shouldn’t judge people. This one we hear from both the world and the church. With the church it even comes complete with a proof-text, Matthew 7:1. While Jesus warns us to not be too quick to judge, to judge with charity, to judge in a manner we would like to be judged, even He is in this very text calling us to judge, but to judge well. A blanket condemnation of all judging is, well, condemning, and therefore judging. It is hoisted on its own petard.
2. Jesus loved the most vile sinners, but hated the Pharisees, the religious conservatives. Really? Did Jesus hate Nicodemus? How about Joseph of Arimathea? They were both Pharisees He was likely rather close to. Did Jesus love the adulterous, incestuous, murderous Herod? How about that spineless and corrupt Pilate? Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals that the calculus Jesus used for His grace was rather simple. The question wasn’t how spectacular of a sinner you were, but how repentant you were. When Jesus compared the proud Pharisee who prayed, “I thank you God that I am not like other men,” to the tax collector who prayed, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18), He wasn’t saying the former was bad because he was a Pharisee, and the latter good because he was a tax collector. The difference was in the repentance. What an irony then that in our day we proudly present ourselves as the sinners, praying, “I thank you Lord that I am not like other men. I sin openly and unrepentantly. I mock those who affirm Your law, and do not judge like those vile judgers.”
3. Sending good thoughts your way. What? Have you ever been sitting around, when suddenly a “good thought” popped into your head, followed by this thought, “Hey, how nice of, hmm, let’s see here. What’s the return address on this good thought, so I can thank the sender?” Thoughts (a) do not travel across space magically, and (b) even if they did they have no magic power to change anything. Weird that people who think praying to the Living God is fruitless and powerless nevertheless think that their sent thoughts can change the future.
4. You think you’re always right. The Creator is always right. Fallen creatures, however, aren’t so fallen as to actually believe that they are always right. We do—those beings that never fell, those that are fallen, those redeemed, even those perfected—however, always believe we’re right. To think I’m always right is to claim to be infallible. To always think I’m right, however, is nothing more than to think. It is to believe what we believe. In addition, that I believe something has no bearing on whether it is true or not. That I always agree with me, just like you always agree with you, doesn’t make me arrogant. It merely means I don’t have a split personality. No one ever said, “I believe X, but I think I’m wrong.”
5. Christians shouldn’t divide over doctrine. The first question I have is, “Well, what should we divide over?” But the more foundational question is, “Who are the Christians?” There are issues that divide Christians. But there are also issues that divide Christians from non-Christians, some of whom actually claim to be Christians. Is claiming to be Christian sufficient to preclude division? Not according to the Bible. The New Testament tells us to have nothing to do with those who preach a different gospel (Galatians 1:8). That’s a doctrinal matter. It tells us we should have nothing to do with professing believers who are sexually immoral (I Corinthians 5). That’s a doctrinal matter. But worst of all, are not those who make this claim dividing themselves from Christians who believe we should divide over doctrine? The statement itself is doctrine, and is divisive.
Rumor is that the Soviets when fighting in Afghanistan, in an effort to discourage the Afghans took to booby-trapping toys. I suspect these little nuggets of received wisdom are the devil’s own version of the same strategy. We play with these intellectual toys, but soon enough they blow up in our hands.