The Difference Between “Right” and “Helpful”

Just because it’s right doesn’t mean it’s helpful.

Take, for example, the moment when a child comes to you and tells you something you already know. He broke the lamp. She told a lie. He took the extra cookie. There are all kinds of things you might say to your child in that moment, and most of them are right:

“Extra cookies will make you fat.”

“Every time you disobey me I lose a little bit of trust in you.”

“That lamp was worth more than what I currently have in your college savings account.”

All true. None helpful.

Wisdom knows the difference between these two things. When my book first started being shipped, we weren’t necessarily ready for the stories that have started to come in regarding the levels of pain and suffering endured by many of those reading it. There are stories of lost children, of terminal diseases, and of financial ruin, all of which have caused and are causing people to ask big, earth-shattering questions of God.

Now there are answers to these questions that may be right; that doesn’t mean they are helpful. We might say to someone in the midst of pain that God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. We might also remind them that God will use this event in their lives as a fire of refinement for their faith. We could also say that at the end of time all things will be set right.

These are all true things. But just because they’re true doesn’t mean they’re helpful.

One of the things I wrote about in Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal was about the story of Lazarus and his grieving sisters. Perhaps we could take a lesson from Jesus who, in John 11, was confronted by this situation of death. Instead of beating grieving sisters over the head with the right theological answer, He did something truly remarkable:

He wept.

No trite answer. No quick explanation. No bludgeoning with theology. Tears instead.

I put myself in the place of Jesus in this moment and I think I would feel the pressing need to defend God. To justify His actions. To say something – anything – that offers an explanation for the pain. But the truth is that I would do so largely out of my desire to seem smart. Or mature. Or well versed in the ways of God.

But Jesus has the amazing self-assurance to weep. He knows the difference between being right and being helpful. May God give us the grace and wisdom to know it, too.

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  • Nonette Robinson says:

    Michael: This was very insightful for me as I think back over some rough spots in our life—Jackson’s illness, my cancer, etc. People would often give “reassuring” comments like, “We don’t always understand God’s will” or “God is in control” which are both very true but they do little to ease the questioning, hurting, and frustration that you are experiencing at that very moment. We don’t often understand how it could be God’s will to let a child go through medical illnesses and pain or how He could be in control when chemo is taking its toll on one’s body. Hopefully a lesson I learned and can be reminded of when others are going through struggles is that they need me, not my well meaning comments, to be there to be a servant. I could certainly see God’s grace through the hands of his servants as they reached out to us.

  • jim g says:

    Wow. Shot through the heart. Thanks.

  • Kim Wright says:

    Thanks Michael, that was just what I needed this morning. I agree. But, like you said on Sunday… What if it’s for God’s glory? And I get it. I finally do get it. I don’t always like it that we have to go through the hurt, and we have to watch our family struggle through the pain and the hard times, but in the end… God is going to get the Glory…and His goodness will prevail. It always does. So why not see HIS goodness through it all anyhow?

    Thanks again for coming and sharing His word with us this weekend.

    In His Service,
    Kim Wright
    Sumter, SC

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