Today I was reminded of the most common abuse of God’s Word. It is so common, that many Christians feel it is the proper way to use the Word. For one, we forget that we do not “use” the Word. The Word transforms us. We have a tendency to try to wield the Word like a magic talisman: “You have a problem? Here, let me whip out my magic passage and it will make your problem disappear!”
The abuse I speak of is when a Christian expresses some problem—anxiety, depression, sadness, loneliness—and another Christian, as well-meaning as they are misguided, whips out a passage taken out of context and expects it to actually help. Throwing Bible passages at the hurting is not helping them. When someone expresses such problems, what they need is someone to listen, to commiserate, and to empathize. They also need a friend who loves them and who neither devalues their feelings nor judges them for the feelings. However, the person who thinks simply spewing out a Bible passage does both of these—even if unintended.
When this is done to a hurting person he does not feel “Oh. Thank you for reminding me of this truth. I had forgotten it. I am all better now.” Instead what the hurting person hears is: “You should not feel this way because scripture says…” It usually does more harm than good. It judges the person who hurts, and it tells them they should not feel the way they do.
Actually, if the person who does this were completely honest with himself, he’d have to admit that it is not really an attempt to help. It is an attempt to pretend to help without actually spending the time or effort. It is the literary version of, “Oh! You have a problem? Well, I’ll pray for you brother.”
Years ago, my wife and I lost a son. I woke to find him dead. My wife and I were devastated. We had several people try to ‘help.’ Most of our Christian friends thought they were helping by quoting scripture at us. This didn’t help. We didn’t want to be fixed. Nothing was going to fix our pain. Nothing can lessen the pain from such a catastrophe. One couple helped. Only one! They came over and never quoted scripture. Instead, they cried with us. That’s it. They couldn’t feel our pain. But at least they didn’t belittle our pain by assuming they could fix it. They also showed that they felt their own pain for us.
One thing I have long dealt with is depression. I know many other Christians who suffer with this as well. Don’t feel bad for us. The most famous Christians in Church History actually suffered with depression. This doesn’t mean there is something wrong with our faith. Many times when depressed and anxious I, like anyone else going through it, have just wanted to talk with someone. Yes, I can talk to God, and often do when depressed. Yes, it helps. However, sometimes we just need human interaction. Why not? God created us to be social beings. Sometimes we just need another human to hear our complaints and to at least feel for us. There is nothing sinful in this. There is nothing to fix. Too often, when deeply needing to speak to someone, the person experiencing pain tries to open up to another Christian and all he gets is scripture quoted at him. It’s like the person responds by saying: “Here. Let me fix you.” If I am so easy to fix, then my problem must be miniscule. It belittles my problem and along with it belittles me since it looked so large to me.
The Word of God is not meant to work like that. It should inspire you to act. It should inspire you to feel for one who is hurting. This should make you willing to listen to the hurting and to cry with them. The Word of God is not a magic talisman that you wave over the hurting to remove their pain. The Word of God can heal such people and reduce or remove their pain, but only when wielded by the Holy Spirit.
This is not saying one should avoid scripture when speaking to the hurting. However, rather than trying to fix the person, one should read from it in a way that seeks to comfort. That seeks to remind. Sitting with the hurting and reading the Words of God to them to sooth and comfort is different from grabbing some passage and trying to use it as a spiritual wrench to twist them back into spiritual shape. When a hurting person comes to speak to you and you feel tempted to use a passage of scripture ask yourself, “Am I assuming this will fix them?” If so, do the hurting person a favor and save your magic trick for Vegas.