Wikipedia summarizes Nathan Robinson’s take on platitudes as:
“A platitude is even worse than a cliché. It’s a sanctimonious cliché, a statement that is not only old and overused but often moralistic and imperious. … [they] have an aphoristic quality, they seem like timeless moral lessons. They therefore shape our view of the world, and can lull us into accepting things that are actually false and foolish.”
By definition, a platitude is a “flat” saying that sounds significant but isn’t. However, Robinson’s take on the actual use of platitude is significant, especially as we look at Lamentations, or hear the mourning, grief, and pain of others.
There is also another piece that Robinson may be unconsciously reacting to is that often platitudes hurt. The receiver of the platitude will often perceive the speaker as unsympathetic or unempathetic, at best, and dismissive or belittling at worst.
The flip-side of a platitude is actually the heart of the speaker. Sometimes the platitude is to anesthetize the speaker! When they speak a platitude they don’t have to acknowledge the pain of the other or their own pain. Platitudes are often used because people just don’t know what to say, so it’s easier to say something seems helpful or profound (Especially if it sounds like it came from the Scriptures!) and just move on.
The writer of Lamentations is miserable! Everything has fallen apart. However, in the midst of their woes, they hold on to God! The really important part to comprehend is not that the lamenter knows why, but that God loves them! The lamenter knows that God is present in the midst of it all.
Job was in much the same state. What he needed was people to be present. These few verses of Job are the perfect symbol of what it means to be friends when one of the circle is grieving. Then these “friends” show why being present is the key…they open their mouths. While much of their speech would not seem to be platitudes, they actually were! Pointless, useless speech that was delivered as if it was profound, but it was heartfully and hurtfully false.
James presents a more mature understanding of trials and grieving (don’t say it’s God’s fault), but he doesn’t diminish feelings. James, too, is fighting platitudes (people placing the blame on God, not themselves, for their failures). You can be mad at God. You can be sad. You can be upset. You can be confused (in our day and age, this one might be the most freeing). Perhaps in the midst of our pain our greatest temptation is to try to understand because when we seek to understand (and often feel that we do), we bury or hide the pain we feel. Burying and hiding pain might allow us to survive our pain, but it usually doesn’t allow us to thrive beyond it.
1) Listening is often the alternative to platitudes. When has someone listened to your pain rather than give you platitudes? What about giving platitudes rather than listening? Which helped you more?
2) An interesting struggle in our society is that those in pain look for answers prior to and often instead of grieving. Have you found yourself or others doing that? How can we help each restore a real and healing grieving process?
3) Why is it so hard for us to merely sit with those who are in pain?