Many platitudes repeated in our culture may sound like wise Biblical advice, but they’re not. We wanted to explore common statements that actually are not backed up by Scripture.
In fact, these statements can be very emotionally damaging, especially if they’re mistaken as coming from the Bible. Here are seven statements lacking Scriptural backing and worth challenging if they’re causing you mental suffering.
1. ‘Everything happens for a reason‘
This is perhaps the most insidious statement on the list. Although we may find growth in painful experiences, that doesn’t mean that we should always try to find a deeper “reason” in every situation.
When someone’s suffering, it’s often extremely painful for them to hear “everything happens for a reason.” For example, consider a parent who just learned that their child has a terminal disease. If they’re told that “everything happens for a reason,” that implies that the death of their child will somehow lead to something else that’s supposed to happen. Although beauty can rise from ashes, there’s no comfort that can come from telling them that there’s a reason for their child’s death. Sometimes we simply have heartbreaking pain in our life; full stop. We don’t need to try to explain that pain away; that only prevents us from dealing with our grief.
A wonderful book called Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by theologian Kate Bowler is worth reading. At 35, in the prime of her life, Bowler was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and prepared to say goodbye to her husband and young son. She articulately reveals how painful and unhelpful it was to be told that her suffering has a deeper “reason” behind it. Check out this TED Talk to hear more from Bowler on the topic:
2. ‘God helps those who help themselves‘
This saying inspires people to bootstrap their way into personal success, implying that if you want God’s help in your life, you must first try to solve your problem through your own strength. This actually goes against Jesus’ teachings. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus told His disciples, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
When we look at Jesus’ life, we see His radical mercy for society’s most vulnerable people. Jesus healed the paralyzed man whose friends lowered him through the ceiling, Jairus’ teen daughter who died and Lazarus who was buried in the tomb. If it weren’t for others advocating for Jesus’ healing power, these miracles wouldn’t have occurred. We regularly see God help those who are incapable of helping themselves. The truth is, God helps those who die to themselves.
3. ‘To thine own self be true‘
This popular statement sounds like it came from a King James Version Bible, but it’s actually from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. As Christians, we should question the wisdom of this particular statement. The Bible teaches that we all fall short of God’s glory, we’re all fallible. Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us to not lean on our own understanding. We need to die to ourselves and remain steadfast in following God’s wisdom.
4. ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle‘
When we’re in the depths of pain, feeling as though there’s no way out, our friends may try to encourage us with this platitude. They’re trying to help us find our inner strength while we suffer. However, if you feel like you’re facing more than you can handle, seek help; help from God and also help from friends, family, mental health professionals… perhaps you may even want to hire help for practical needs like housework or childcare.
Remember, Paul wrote, “we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death,” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
5. ‘The devil made me do it‘
Although we face great temptations, the devil never makes us do anything. Consider the temptations that Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden. Although the devil knew the right words to say to lure Eve, and then Adam, into disobedience, they ate the forbidden fruit by their own free will. When God confronted them on their sin, they both tried to scapegoat away their behavior. We must take ownership of our actions; we can only heal from our sin by first acknowledging our responsibility in this destructive behavior.
6. ‘Good things happen to good people‘
Why do painful things happen to the people we think least deserve to suffer? Why are some people cruel, yet they seem to live a charmed life? I’m not sure of either answer. However, no one is inherently “good” or “bad.” We’re all a bit of both. Romans 3:10 says that “there is no one righteous, not even one.” We all experience both joy and pain in our lives. If you believe that good things happen to you if you’re “good enough,” you’re not putting your faith in Christ’s redemptive power; you’re putting your faith in your own works.
7. ‘Heaven just gained another angel‘
This statement comes from a good place. While attempting to console those who are grieving, people assert that that person who died has been transformed into an angel in Heaven. However, the Bible makes it clear that people are people and angels are angels. Christians have hope that when they die, they can join God and the angels in Heaven, but they cannot become angels.
The more insidious version of this statement is “heaven needed another angel,” which suggests that your loved one needed to die to somehow make heaven more complete. When a child dies, people are even more likely to say this false and painful refrain, as though God needed to take the innocent and angelic child away from their family.
It’s amazing to have your hope set on one day reaching Heaven but be warry of this false belief that humans can transform into angels.