Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #1

I am hesitant to label this #1.  This means that I will do more.  However, if this doesn’t go well, I won’t.  But since it didn’t go well, you won’t remember, so we’re good.  As this (possibly) turns into a list over time, some of them will be funny, some will not.  Christians have a lot of expressions that we use.  Some of them have terrible theology in them.  Some are just weird.  Some are old and need a makeover.  Enough intro, here is #1.

Lesson Learned Theory of Facing Trials

Set-up: A Christian is going through some sort of difficult circumstance and is trying to process it.

So the person going through the trial is talking to a friend about the trial and one of them (could be either one) will say, “God is trying to teach you something.  You need to learn it, so this will pass.”  “Yeah, I know.  I thought I had learned this lesson already, but apparently I didn’t.  The trial came back.”

That seems harmless enough, and my guess is that it seems common.  However, there is a danger to that kind of thinking, to believe that trials happen so that God can teach us.  He then will not remove the trial until you learn the lesson.  He then reserves the right to bring more suffering into your life if you did not learn the lesson completely.

There are a couple of problems here.  First, it means we misunderstand the source of trials and suffering.  God is not the source.  A cursed and sinful world is the source.  We sin and suffering results.  Someone else sins, and suffering results.  The world that is cursed where sickness and death are the norm brings suffering.  God does use suffering to refine our character, but that job is never finished and that lesson will never be over.  God will use suffering to teach perseverence which develops character which produces hope, a hope that does not disappoint (Rom 5:1-5).  He will work for your good in all things (Rom 8:28).  Nowhere in that does it say or even suggest that God is throwing suffering on you simply to teach you or that he is holding on to the end of suffering like cheese on a string, waiting for you to learn something, but jerking it back if you haven’t learned enough yet.

God is a good God that loves you and wants you to have peace and hope in your life.  When trials come he is always going to be leading you in that direction, deepening your character.  However, do not believe that that means you are at fault for the suffering because he thought you needed to learn something.  Furthermore, (trying to avoid full blown rant) this kind of thinking is very dangerous for those that are in the middle of a trial that is irreversable, i.e. the death of a loved one or infertility.  We learn to cope, have hope and peace, trust God, but those things do not go away.

By all means, we need to find God in the middle of difficult circumstances.  However, in these situations God is not the strict 3rd grade teacher with the ruler ready to swat your knuckles, but a compassionate Father with you on his lap wanting you to find hope and life in him and to find comfort in the eternal life he offers.


15 Responses to “Stuff Christians Need to Stop Saying #1”
  1. Megan says:

    I hope this series does “go well.” Especially if future installments focus on things Christians need to stop saying to non-Christians (like maybe using the word “non-Christians” perhaps)

  2. Steve Manatt says:

    Boy, could I contribute to this series! I’ve been on the receiving end of some very harmful theology as people react to my trials. Scripture is full of the valley metaphor to describe the trials of life and a common thread is to remind us of who He is (Psalm 23). Trials are used by God for a number of reasons, but for sure they point us back to the loving Father; the Good Shepherd, if you will. I could go on and on, in fact, I did on my blog should you have an hour or so :)

    Keep in mind that the valley (trials) is defined by two high places – one you just left and one you are headed toward…even if that next high place is heaven itself.

  3. Aaron Reddin says:

    Can you tell my 87 year old Memaw, who is OLD SCHOOL A/G, to stop telling people that if they say the “S” word before a log truck hits and kills them that they are going to hell??

    If so, I’ll give you her number!! ;)

  4. Paul Luman says:

    Well written and so true. Thank you, Charlie.

  5. Carolyn Loften says:

    Well said, even though I’ve been guilty in the past by saying some of the things mentioned.

  6. El Davo Grande says:

    So true. This very subject has been on our (our, as in my wife and me, not you and me) hearts lately.

  7. Heidi M says:


    I should stop with Amen, but I find myself still typing….

    First: God is a Good Teacher. If there’s something we need to learn, He will show us clearly. We need not struggle to figure it out – especially in the painful moments which really are full of His compassion.
    Second: This type of thinking is one way to feel like we have some control, and it’s also very close to trying to manipulate God.

  8. woopigchewie says:

    Maybe you can clarify b/c i’m confused.

    Do you not think that God wills (intends) that we suffer at times?

    Do you not think that He wills (intends) us to suffer in order to teach us things?

  9. cloften says:

    Thanks for the questions. I am surprised that you are the first to ask something. Anytime you try to deal with something deep and controverisal in under 500 words somethings get unsaid. Thanks again.

    The misunderstanding that I think that comes from the “Lesson learned” perspective is first that God’s desire to teach us something is the cause of trials. “My spouse died because God wants to teach me something.” Or that the return of a trial is because I didn’t learn well enough or that I forgot. “My cancer came back because I didn’t learn my lesson the first time, or I must have forgotten how to trust God.” Sin is the cause of suffering, be it a direct result–I lost my arm because I crashed into a tree while driving drunk. Direct result of someone else–I lost my arm because someone else drove drunk. Indirectly through the cursing of the earth–natural disasters, sickness and death.

    God will use the trials to teach us and shape our character, but that is not the origin. God is not “doing this to you” to teach you and you don’t have any control over the duration based on your speed of learning. The primary things that God is wanting to teach us–perseverence, patience, hope, trust, etc. are not lessons to be learned and be done, but character that God will mold throughout our entire life.

    Does that answer the questions? If not, shoot back.

  10. woopigchewie says:

    Appreciate the quick response. Just got back from watching the Super Bowl (great game). Anyway, I agree that God uses trials to teach us and shape our character. I believe that God teaches us perseverence, patience, hope, trust, etc. and molds us through them…all for his glory and our good.
    I think I hear you saying that God “allows” trials and suffering and uses what happens to shape us, but is not intentional in bringing suffering for a greater good?
    Immediately, I think of examples of scripture where God wills suffering for his glory and our good:

    Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and God saving many through 1 – “what you inteded for harm, God intended for good”.

    Moses and Pharoah – how did suffering of Egyptians occur? b/c of Pharoah’s heart being hardened. Who hardened it? Romans 9:16-18…Paul says that God raised pharoah for this very purpose, that he (God) might show his power in you (pharoah) and that my name (God) be proclaimed in all the earth.

    Paul … 2 Corinthians 12:7…to keep me from being conceited…a thorn was given to me in my flesh. thorn was given to prevent pride

    There are other examples in scripture that I haven’t included. However, these scriptures point clearly to God bringing about trials and suffering in our lives for both His glory and our good.

  11. cloften says:

    Your larger point is not disputable to me–God uses trials and suffering in our lives for both His glory and our good. That is absolutely true and you are right in saying that the Bible is full of such stories as is my life and I’m sure your life as well.

    That is not the same though as saying that God caused the trial. The causes of Joseph’s trials were the sin of his brothers, Potiphar’s wife, and the cupbearer to the king. To say that God caused that gets us in a place where we are saying that God caused them to sin. God used their sins to bring about great good in the life of Joseph and most of the world. (Similarly with Paul, the cause of Paul’s thorn was something he was born with, some defect that again is caused by the curse that came from Gen 3)

    The danger of the lessson-learned theology is that you can beleive that it is your fault that suffering has come upon you. “If I were better, God wouldn’t have to teach me this.” “I need to learn this so it doesn’t happen again.” Then also you believe that the duration is your fault as well. “If I could just learn this thing, God will take this away.” That didn’t happen for Paul because the things that God is teaching are not things that you learn or ever master. They are character traits that God is always refining–humility, endurance, patience, hope, etc.

    This kind of thinking leads people to torture themselves always blaming themselves for the worst things that happen in their lives. Rather than being able to draw comfort from God who is able to not only love and comfort them but also works through the trials for His glory and our good, they punish themselves believing that God is punishing them. (Mind you some suffering is my fault, when it is my sin that causes it. However, this is not why people get cancer, have children die, spouses suffer, etc.)

    Suffering happens because sin is pervasive throughout the world, not because God wants to teach us. We should rejoice and be glad that we have a God that uses those difficult times to make us better as Romans 5 says. Again, I think we agree more than we don’t. We both know that God loves us and uses suffering and trials. I just believe we need to be careful when we talk about what causes these trials and what (if anything) we can do to bring them to end.

  12. woopigchewie says:

    I’ve contemplated how to respond. I would agree that often times suffering is independent of our actions as evidenced by passages in Job, Eccles, etc….

    Where it sounds like we disagree is in what role God plays in our suffering.
    The Bible speaks clearly to God not only using suffering/trials but intending (causing/willing) these events as part of His Sovereign plan.
    The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble
    The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

    The greatest example of his intentionality is when He gave His Son as a ransom for us. God chose before creation of the world that His essence could be best captured through His Son suffering for us.

    Acts 4:27-28
    For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you annoited, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan predestined to take place.

    if He was intentional about His Son suffering, who are we to think that we deserve anything less? If the suffering I experience is Not intended by God, how can I rest in the fact that He is working all things together for my good?

    Praise God that He intends trials to refine me, conforming me to the image of His Son!

  13. cloften says:

    My wife would tell you that I have an unhealthy obsession with everyone agreeing with me. However, you and I agree too much for me to worry about it. Our discussion has morphed into a sovreignty discussion. From what I can tell, it would seem that you and I have very similar ideas about what God intends/causes/wills/allows, etc.

    My greatest hope in writing this would be to prevent people from an unhealthy view that you can be good enough to avoid suffering or be good enough in the suffering for it to stop. We will all deal with suffering and God will use it. Way too many people go to an unhealthy place believing they can avoid it through “being good” or “having enough faith.” It sounds to me like you are far from that and that you have a healthy view of the trials in your life, finding God’s loving refining of your character rather than too often seen unhealthy perspectives.

    Thanks so much for your comments and pushback. I love it.

  14. Grobmyer says:

    Charlie, I agree and disagree. Over the last two years, I have had a string of events happen in my life that were extreme and undesirable. My business got into financial trouble. We went deep into debt, and have worked many extra hours and days to pull ourselves out of it. In the midst of it all, we decided to sell our large home and buy something more affordable. We purchased an older home with a bad home inspection. We found out the entire substructure of the house was rotted and had to replace every floor, beams and all, many walls, plumbing, ceilings, electrical, ductwork, and more. We were displaced from the house and are having to fix it all before it is livable again. We have spent more on the repairs than we paid for the house, exhausting all our savings and borrowing more. We are deeply involved in a lawsuit and have been for almost two years now, and have had to buy another house while preparing the first for sale, so we now have two notes.

    My marriage almost broke up over the stress of it all. We went into counseling and really struggled there for a while. I then was diagnosed with colon cancer in May of this year. I had to have surgery to remove half of my large intestine and have been doing chemo ever since. We also found our my six year old daughter may have either lupus or juvenile diabetes. Two weeks ago, I wrecked and totaled my truck. Life keeps smacking me in the head!

    The thing about it, though, is that through it all, we have become the strongest we have ever been. My wife and I have been through a transformative process that has forged us through fire to become completely redefined as a couple and as individuals. Our priorities have changed. Our marriage is strong. I have had time off to reconnect with my family. We are healthy, happy, and powerful! Nothing can phase us and we feel the best we ever have! I truly believe that we would not have reached this phase of our personal development if it were not for these trials. I am Job. I have been tested. And I feel amazing in my life and am truly blessed. There is an old saying that God does not give you more than you can handle, and we have handled a lot! I believe God may sometimes purposely put trials in your life to teach you something, but he will not do so unless he knows the results will be a success. God is a loving God, and he knows what is best for each of us. Sometimes, we his children, need a wake up call. I feel no guilt, no sense of fault. I feel blessed by my trials, for the person I have become and the opportunaties afforded to me are worth the price I have paid. I would not wish it on anyone, but I would not trade it for anything…

  15. Grobmyer says:

    And in addition, every trial set before us has had an answer set before us. When we were desperate for money, it was placed before us. My cancer was discovered on a doctor visit over acid reflux. I was completely asymptomatic and it was caught very early, so my prognosis is very high. My chemo treatments, although not fun, have really been a breeze compared to most. My daughter’s diagnosis has changed with dietary and other alterations until her inflammatory markers have returned to normal. I got a new house we like better than the first. I just got a new truck and the ability to pay for it all. I have sufficient disability insurance to allow me time off, so I look at all this as a paid vacation. My marriage is awesome! God is good….

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