“So what?” seem to be the most dismissive and insensitive words one can say to someone who is in trouble. Of course, often it is. If someone says, “I’m hungry,” or “I’m cold,” and we respond by saying “So what?”, we are not to be commended. However, “So what?”s are sometimes given a bad rap. When we decide to never use them, we actually might make matters worse. This is particularly the case when unnecessary feelings of entitlement are at issue.
I have been reading a book called A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry by Geoffroi De Charny. Written in 1356, this little handbook on how to be a knight with honor is quite a jewel, speaking to me often in my self-pity. For the most part, it cries out, “So what?” to my problems over and over again. In fact, the ideals Sir Geoffroi calls me to strive for are all the things that cause me to wallow in self-pity. A good knight, according to Geoffroi, is intentional about making sure he does not live his life with too many comforts. As religious as Geoffroi was (he was actually the first recorded owner of the Shroud of Turin), his purpose was not some legalistic asceticism. He just did not want people to become too pampered. He believed that undue pampering would bring about serious and unnecessary depression. He encouraged knights to sleep outside in the cold and then in the heat. He discouraged mattresses and white sheets. These are things that I would feel deprived of if I did not have. And I would expect you to pamper me with “I’m sorry”s to indulge my feelings of neglect—neglect by others and neglect by God. Were I to tell Sir Geoffroi that I lacked such things, I imagine he would say, “So what?”
This comes in many areas of life.
In theological circles, there needs to be some “so what?”s as well. I have so many people who write or call me about losing their faith. The crises are often centered around issues that are not monumental, but seem so to the one doubting. Their faith is falling apart become of some theological issue that really should not cause quite so much trouble. I talk to people all the time who claim that their faith is coming unglued because they no longer think they can hold to an inerrant Bible. For others, the issue is predestination, the canon of the Scripture, the silence of God in their lives, or the issue of evolution. When people are doubting their faith because of issues such as these, my usual reaction (even if not always stated as such) is, “So what?” None of these things should have the power to cause such significant doubt. Sure, they can get you bent out of shape, but “so what?” Who said that God’s silence in your life is uncommon to man? Look to the Psalms. Who said the Bible had to be inerrant (even though I believe it is) before the message of Christianity could be true? Do you hold all history to the same standard? Who said that God could not have used evolution (although I don’t believe he did)? So what if you think 2 Peter was not written by Peter? On and on we can go. There are very few things that actually make or break our faith, and those things are incredibly defensible. As such, it is only with these things (the existence of God, the resurrection and deity of Christ, the general reliability of Scripture, etc.) that doubt should cause your faith to falter.
Saying “so what?” is not the same as saying “who cares?” or “grow up!” (at least in the way I am talking about it). It is an honest question that needs to be asked in many situations to force us to carefully evaluate the relative importance of the issue that is troubling us.
In fact, “so what?” can be the most comforting thing we can hear. Many people come to me in an absolute panic due to the very idea that they are doubting their faith. Issues aside, when we find that we can be broken spiritually (even among seemingly mature Christians), we don’t know how to take it. A good “so what?” tells the person that you are not in a panic with them since you know this is common to man. “Join the crowd!” is another phrase which may express just as well what I am communicating here. It essentially says, your panic about your doubt or discomfort comes from the ill-conceived notion that those who are not going through the difficulties you are going through are “the in crowd,” and you are the odd one out. When one feels alone in their doubt and pain, as if God is taking care of everyone else at a five-star level and you are out under the bridge, this escalates the pain beyond what we can bear. But when we find we join the ranks of Abraham, David, Solomon, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist, all of whom experienced significant doubts in their faith, things change quite a bit.
Combine the two (“so what?” and “join the crowd!”) and we may be on to something!
My main point is that we need to keep from falling apart with people when they are falling apart over issues that are not worth falling apart over. A good “so what?” (followed by a sensitive explanation) goes a long way to help people retain their faith.
Sir Geoffroi De Charny may have more to say to us today than we think!
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminar (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]