Quoting Scripture is Cheap Drive-by Empathy

Kathleen M Peters, Speaker/Author


Want to see me get wiggly-weird in 2 seconds? Watch me read a non-empathic comment to a vulnerable post on social media. (It’s a treat, really. Just ask my husband.)  A woman has just said she is at the end of her ever-loving rope; life is kicking her in the butt, the referee is about to get to 10 in the count, and she knows she isn’t getting back up, and this Yay-hoo, a well meaning human (bless her heart) who hasn’t quite thought through the consequences of what they are about to say, releases a string of scriptures as if they hold the answers to all life’s troubles. All things will be fixed with scripture like:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)


“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Yes, that’s when you see me squirm, toss up my hands in a fury, and firmly smack my forehead with my palm. (And if you’re real lucky, you’ll see me fall knees first to the ground yelling, “Noooooooo!”)

“Why?” you ask. Why does a foaming mouth rabid looking version of Kathleen appear?

I’ll tell you.

It’s not that scripture is not life-giving and can and has been some of the most inspirational helpful reading in my own life. It has sewn up deep wounds, reminded me I am cherished and loved by an amazing God, and convicted me of changes I need to make. The Bible has met me in my deepest darkest moments. It’s cheered me on in my victories and inspired me to keep going when I wanted to give up. It is God-breathed. It is a double edge sword. It is life.  But when I see it wielded as a back-handed weapon disguised as a bouquet of flowers, I wig out.

That’s right. Back-handed.

It’s as if us Christ Followers get so wrapped up in our need to fix, prove, or sew up nicely with no effort that we forget to see the human heart standing before us. The bleeding out heart who is barely holding on will not suddenly be stitched up and healed with words from the Bible. Could it happen? Of course. God is God. He is a god of miracles. But I also know He made us humans with emotions – emotions that are meant to be felt. As we suffer through difficult circumstances, what we feel cannot be “fixed.” The only words that can bring a balm to the heavy heart are words of empathy.  A simple, “you are not alone” or “I’ve sat in that place before” or even may I dare say, “Me too” can be the most loving words you can say.

Will the mama who has just lost her baby find comfort in words that God has not forgotten her and He has plans to prosper her? I imagine so. Some day. But in the midst of her deep grief, she needs us to “feel with” her. She needs us to weep with her, sit with her, listen, and extend words of empathy.  You wanna kick a mama while she’s down, you just go right ahead and tell her to take joy in her baby’s death. You tell her “all things work for good” and inadvertently send her the message it’s a good thing her baby died. That’s right. Jump right in there with your floral covered knife and twist it into the bruised and broken place.

A bit too harsh? (I told you, I get wiggy-weird)

You see, when our first response to someone in pain is quoting scripture, we’re doing a drive-by. We’re slapping them upside the head and saying, “Buck up, girl! Why are you so sad? You need to get a bigger faith, girl. That’s all this is. You pray more. You read more. You trust more in a bigger God. That’s what you need to do. Dry your tears.”  TRANSLATION: You’re making me uncomfortable. I don’t know what to say to make this better for you.

When we don’t sit with her, feel with her, and then rush into fix-it mode with our favorite life-giving scripture, we deny her pain. And friends, God made us to feel. Feelings are God-given. They help us process what’s happening in our lives. They are important.

I know what it’s like to have a loved one share a hurt so deep it’s knocks the wind out of me. I know what it’s like to sit with their pain and not know what to say. I know what’s it’s like to want to make it all better. But if I truly want love them in that moment, I need to keep my scripture to myself, start listening to the feelings, and be present in the pain.

If you are interested in showing the love of God to your dear brothers and sisters, friend, hold on to the scripture verses that helped you survive cancer, addiction recovery, and the loss of a loved one. Hold them close to your heart. Your sweet friend may need them soon. She may ask you for verses that helped you. But for now, gently hold her hurting heart and just be there for her.

No more drive-bys.

Much love,


Do you struggle with empathy? Would you like to learn more? Come check out my online course where I teach how to deliver it so it feels like love not a back-handed floral sword. Click here => Friend Empathy Online Course

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