Sooner or later, all of us will walk the path of sorrow and loss. J. I. Packer describes grief as “the inward desolation that follows the losing of something or someone we loved – a child, a relative, an actual or anticipated life partner, a pet, a job, one’s home,...
Christians like to encourage people. This is a great thing. When someone we care about is hurting or enduring trials, we are quick to give words of encouragement and comfort. When we are suffering, others are generous to do the same for us.
But an important question regarding this is, What kind of counsel are we giving or receiving?
Unfortunately, the comforts often given in these situations are not helpful or biblical. They may be popularly used, but they are rarely biblically-grounded. In fact, some people have heard the following statements and words of comfort so often that they assume they’re in the Bible.
Here are three of the most common unbiblical phrases people use to comfort those who are hurting. Brace yourself, as you have most likely used or heard these!
1. “If you have enough faith, everything will be okay.”
This is not true. Things may not always “turn out okay.” The cancer does not always go away. The relationship does not always get repaired. The job promotion does not always come. The wayward child does not always return. Things do not always turn out okay, even when we exhibit extraordinary faith and pray fervently.
Nevertheless, we should absolutely pray and put our faith in God! Yes, we avoid treating God like a genie who guarantees our requests, but we certainly do not lose faith or believe our prayers are meaningless.
God’s will for our lives is good, even when it hurts. We put our faith in God, trusting his wisdom and love. We pray for humility to submit to everything he brings to us. But it is not our faith or our prayers that guarantee our outcomes. We choose to trust God and ask him to strengthen our faith during trials, regardless of our circumstances.
2. “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Some of you are gasping right now. You would swear this is in the Bible. But it’s not. The verse being misinterpreted here is 1 Corinthians 10:13. There, Paul writes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
The verse is commonly quoted to imply that God will never put more on us than we can handle, but is actually about temptations to sin. It has nothing to do with our trials, pain, or suffering. And it is certainly not a promise that our loads will be manageable.
The truth is this: God will absolutely put more on you than you can handle. Why would he do that? So that you will quit trying to “handle” everything on your own and die to your self-reliance. God loves us too much not to break us of our independence from him. Our trials and tribulations, which are often more than we can handle, are used by him to teach us humble dependence.
3. “This, too, shall pass.”
I’ve been guilty of using this phrase before. But it’s not in the Bible; it’s believed to be from a poet in ancient Persia. The idea is that suffering is cyclical and seasonal, so “just endure it” and it will go away. Yet, it may not. Some people will endure a lifetime of difficulty and pain. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who live in parts of the world where difficulty is as inherent as life itself. So there is no guarantee it will pass.
Instead of counseling with this antidote, we should encourage people to trust in the all-sufficient grace of Christ available to us (2 Corinthians 12:9). He promises to be our hope, help, and strength in our weakness. Rather than clinging to the hope of our trial passing with time, we should instead cling to Christ and know he is with us in the middle of our trials.
Yes, one day all suffering will cease when Christ returns and the New Jerusalem is established. For now, pain is a part of life on this fallen earth. So, as sufferers and comforters, may we comfort biblically. May we point people to the Christ who is more than enough for us—even in our bitter providences.