A little more on timing.

It is possible for something to be true, and always true, and sometimes not helpful at all.

Some people assume that statements from the Bible are always true and always helpful.

And so, for example, in moments of deep grief following the loss of a child, someone will say to the parents, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.”

It is a true statement.

It is not in this moment a comforting statement. And as it often is used, it actually means, “I’m uncomfortable with you crying right now and I don’t want to deal with your really hard ‘why’ questions and so I will pull out this Bible verse with which you can’t really argue because if you do, it will look like you don’t love God.”

It is not the right time for these words.

There is, in ancient rhetoric, the idea of the right time.

A well-trained speaker will be taught about ways of saying things – kinds of arguments, ways of explaining, approaches to helping people understand. And a well-trained speaker will be taught about kinds of personalities and how they respond. And, though Plato didn’t talk about it, I believe Augustine added that a well-trained speaker will be well-grounded in the content, so there is something worth saying.

And then Plato adds this: to be effective, you need to know when to speak and when to be silent, when to tell a joke or to offer a proof or to be sarcastic or to be sensitive.

It is the idea of kairos, of an awareness of the moment. The discipline to notice the person and the situation and the need in this moment and to choose the content that fits here and now.

Jesus, following the death of Lazarus, when talking to Mary, did not say, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” He shared in her deep grief and anger about death. He asked her to take him to the tomb. He wept.

It is okay in the moments after death (or in many other moments of grief and uncertainty) to not have a quick answer but a slow presence.


Plato writes about this in Phaedrus. Augustine in On Christian Doctrine.