A Bible-based “hotline” that’s no help at all.

A Bible-based “hotline” that’s no help at all. October 28, 2013

The meme above crossed my Internet path today. I was going to print it out and hang it on my refrigerator next to my plumber’s name and number—except then I realized that while my plumber can actually help me, this list of Bible verses is more likely to hurt rather than to help me or anyone else.

Let’s take a look at the actual Biblical text behind these “hotlines”:

Worry Hotline ….. 1 Peter 5:7
1 Peter 5:7 reads:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

This is fine for what it is. But it does nothing to address any real issue in anyone’s life. “Stressed about your job, your spouse, your money, your kids, your health? No worries: God cares for you!” Comfort fail.

Fear Hotline ….. Isaiah 41:10
Isaiah 41:10 reads:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

This Old Testament verse certainly sounds good. And I do think that God can provide such encouragement to us. But that’s not the message being delivered here. This is written to the nation of Israel, not to individual Christians. Appropriating God’s words to Israel as a personal antidote against fear is Biblically dishonest. It’s either disingenuous or ignorant to pull a Bible verse entirely out of its context and then use it to convey your own thoughts and feelings.

Temptation Hotline ….. 1 Corinthians 10:13, which reads:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Paul is here talking primarily about idolatry. Verses 5 through 12 of this chapter place Paul’s encouragement in a sobering light: in the past, he says, those who faced temptation and failed faced severe judgement. (“We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.” [!] True temptations and trials are not simple matters, and the “way out” that God might provide from them is often far from clear.

Doubt Hotline ….. Romans 10:17:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Here Paul is talking about preaching the Gospel throughout Israel. What is clear from this passage (not to mention from common sense) is that you can’t directly believe in Christ without knowing about him; in order to be a Christian, one must first hear the message of Christianity. One can only wonder how that fact is supposed to ameliorate one’s doubts about Christ, Christianity, the Bible, or anything else. I suspect that what’s being implied here is not that it’s okay for a person to doubt and ask questions about their faith, but rather that when a person is faced with doubt, the solution is to speak the Gospel to them even louder. Because we all know how that helps.

Sickness Hotline ….. Isaiah 53:5:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Part of the famous “Man of Sorrow” passage in Isaiah, this verse is usually viewed by Christians as referencing Jesus. If so, the context is then Christ’s death on the cross and the resulting effects of the Atonement. Regardless of one’s particular understanding of the Atonement, one thing is unarguable: Jesus’ death on the cross didn’t cure all the sickness in the world. If you’re sick, whether from a cold or cancer, saying “Jesus died on the cross: by his wounds we are healed” belittles your illness and  Christ’s death. Not. Helpful.

Depression Hotline ….. Psalm 34:18:

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Whenever Biblical remedies for depression are offered, huge red flags should go up. Sure, if you’re feeling a bit down there’s much encouragement to be found in the Psalms. But depression can’t be wiped away with a few lines of ancient poetry. True depression is a serious medical condition that requires professional treatment. The idea that a Bible verse can cure depression is not only wrong, it’s dangerous.

Loneliness Hotline ….. Deuteronomy 31:8:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

This verse has no relevance to loneliness. It’s Moses speaking directly to Joshua, telling him to lead Israel to invade the land of the Canaanites. It’s part of a pre-battle pep talk, a precursor to war and genocide. A few verses earlier, Moses says to the people of Israel: “The LORD your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land…The LORD will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you.” If psyching yourself up for battle makes you feel less lonely, I think it reasonable to suggest that loneliness isn’t your main problem.

Perhaps this meme wasn’t worth dissecting; it’s a bit, I know, like shooting fish in a barrel. And to be clear, I do think we should turn to God when we’re afraid or depressed or worried or sick. But offering up excised Bible verses as emotional panaceas for real emotional problems is spiritually, psychologically and even physically dangerous. It’s sad that so many Christians keep doing it anyway.


Dan WilkinsonDan Wilkinson

Dan is the Executive Editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians blog. He is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and has two cats.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • SonjaFaithLund

    Bless you for this.

  • Ozzy Osborn


  • whatever49321 .

    wow, this is so sad. these passages have brought so much healing to so many. Cynicism thinks that a verse written to one person at one time can’t be applied to anyone else. And just because these verses can’t replace professional medicine and professional counseling doesn’t mean that they can’t be a piece of healing to someone struggling for peace. where does the meme say that these verses are to be taken as a replacement to professional help? So sad, that you let cynicism be your translator for the Holy Scriptures.

    • They’ve brought healing to so many? Really? How?

      • Joseph Gorka

        Through real POWER !!

        • Real power…. lots things have real power… hydroelectric dams, angry mama bears, love…according to a Huey Lewis song, prince Adam right after hr cries “I have the power” thus turning him into He-man.

          Bible verses? Unless you have evidence…. you know proof that speaking bible verses at people has any actual positive results that benefit the person spoken at, based on tangible evidence,
          then I’m all ears. Otherwise, I suspect it is only the speaker who benefits from the good superior feeling they get evoking holy words

          • Joseph Gorka

            The verses are NOT “spoken at”. They are directions to. Most of the items listed by you have no real power, they have some degree of power. That power was given only by only one of those listed.. LOVE. God is love. Tangible evidence is all around you, but I cannot make you SEE it.

    • JenellYB

      The writer’s point is, and I agree, those bible verse tossed out as if some kind of answer or relevant to whatever a person is experiencing doesn’t even relate to their situation when read in context! They are just random stray bible verses, meaningless, toward what someone may be dealing with. I don’t see pointing that out as being cynical at all.

    • Garebelman

      So if you quote Bible verses at somebody who has a severe illness they become magically cured? Wow, you should spread the good news then I didn’t know quoting words is a miracle worker!

      • Joseph Gorka

        There is NO “magic” involved. Holy God does NOT need “magic”. That is the work of another weaker power.

    • Worthless Beast

      Looking at pictures of kittens and other cute animals or playing a favorite videogame sometimes cheers me up momentarily, but, you know, my psychatrist doesn’t exactly write perscriptions for those things, nor do I expect scratching my cat behind the ears to completely replace my therapy. Same thing with the Bible (unless your personal angst happens to *be* spiritual and wrestling with doubts about the meaning of life, as mine often is). Sure, if a few out of context verses cheers you up the same way as a bit of Pokemon can get me out of a funk, go for it, but don’t use it as an excuse not to get help.

      You might find that “thinking about God” *isn’t* “all you need” to pull you out of an urge to suicide or other kind of destruction. Ain’t no easy cure for nothin’.

  • Emily Cheek

    One of the problems here is that when someone is lonely, hurting, sad, angry, depressed, or one of the myriad of emotions that comes with being human, people just hand them a little notecard with these “hotlines” on it and give them the standard “Pray it away!” and a giggle. That’s not what Christianity is about. Part of being a true Christian – committed to the teachings of Jesus – is being part of community that loves, cares, envelopes, protects, and at times admonishes (albeit gently and lovingly). Maybe instead of saying here’s a hotline number in The Bible, read it and good luck, those that subscribe to this kind of simplistic mindset should reach out, help someone find a qualified professional that can treat what is wrong with them, pray with them and for them (that they find healing/peace/happiness, whatever), encourage them to feel how they feel, actually embrace the tenants of Jesus Christ.

  • JenellYB

    Well TY, TY, TY! Here is a whole blog devoted to my pet peeve of the day, or is it annoying itch I can’t quite reach…. FLYING STRAY BIBLE VERSES! I just left the comments under a different PC blog, under which in amongst reasonable sounding discussion about the topic and how the author handled it, there came one of those posts of nothing but a string of flying stray bible verses! No comment to explain how or why the one posting thought any of them relevant, and as best as I could figure, there was absolutely nothing in any of them even remotely relevant to the blog or any comments posted. That happens sometimes in ‘real life.’ Out of the blue, with seemingly no relevance to anything anyone is doing or saying or talking about, someone seems to have slipped up behind someone else and pulled the little ring attached to a string, and words start coming out… like those old talky dolls. Out comes some stray flying bible verse, or string of bible verses, that don’t seem to relate to absolutely anything actually going on!

    • Emily Cheek

      It’s almost as bad as those stupid pictures on FB with that whole “Post this and you are acknowledging Jesus, Deny me and I’ll deny you.” junk. It’s spiritual manipulation at it’s worst.

      • I hate those things and heel no guilt when I ignore them and instead like the latest Simons cat video or anything by the oatmeal.

  • Garebelman

    I got yelled at a number of years ago because I said I was down and depressed. A Baptist preacher on Facebook started telling me I am not suppose to be that basically. I told him I am allowed to feel whatever i want and there is no magical cure of it all. Safe to say he de friended me after that. I hate it when people try to belittle people thinking their “cure quotes” just cure all life’s problems.

    • And it’s so weird, because that pastor was exhibiting a clearly unhealthy psychology. “Be a better Christian so you’ll feel better right now, or I’ll hate you!” isn’t exactly … non-tweaked.

  • Worthless Beast

    In a bit of Fridge Brilliance, I walked away from my computer and thought of an episode of “The Simpsons” that perfectly illustrates this concept.

    I’m sure all of you are at least marginally familiar with The Simpsons, even if you’ve never watched it. I’ve been a fan since I was 10… Anyway, there is an episode in Season 6 or Season 7, I think, titled “In Marge We Trust.” It is probably best remembered for the subplot in which Homer and the kids find a crazy Japanese dish-detergent box with a logo resembling Homer’s face on it. “I am Mr. Sparkle! I am disrespectful to dirt!”

    The main plot, however, is Marge becoming the phone hotline/crisis counselor for the First Church of Springfield. This happens when she chooses to volunteer for the church and finds out that Rev. Lovejoy doesn’t care about helping his parishoners. When they call in, the just flippantly gives a Bible verse or says “Oh, it’s in the Bible somewhere, read around Malachi,” and doesn’t bother because he became burnt out years ago and seems to want to distance himself from the pain of his neighbors.

    Marge, on the other hand, takes the job with gusto and instead of spouting random Bible verses with an “Oh, leave me alone” attitude, she *listens* to people’s problems and gives people advice in her motherly, Marge-y way. Soon, she is Springfield’s beloved “Listen Lady.” In the end, status quo become re-established, lessons about listening and caring are learned, and Homer finds out that his head can be easily drawn by combining a fish and a light bulb.

    I’m sorry if I sound nutty here, it’s just that this post and thread made me think of that episode.

    • Great comment, WB. Perfect. (And very well written!)

      • Worthless Beast

        It’s Season 8, by the way. I’ve been going through my Simpsons tonight and it showed up on Season 8.

        (Used to be Shadsie… got stuck on this name when I wanted an alternate and Disqus just stuck me with it. Yes, I came up with the handle when I was depressed).

  • usingmyvoice

    Handing out those cards and chapter/verse recommendations is like Jesus telling the sick and unwell to go and read the Torah…

  • Jennifer

    The comfort from the Christian Bible comes in reading SPIRITUALLY, as opposed to emotionally or physically. The limitation of the human physical existence is the core challenge to overcoming and coping.

    It is not possible to explain FAITH with emotional and physical boundaries.

    • AtalantaBethulia

      James 2:15-17

      15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

  • Joseph Gorka

    You could NOT be more wrong !! The Word of God is a letter written only to believers. It was NOT written to you, therefore you cannot understand it. The Bible is NOT an intellectual book. It was written Spiritually, and can only be discerned by the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is you that is dangerous, because you have NO idea what you are stating here. Very unwise indeed !!

    • umm. ok.

    • AtalantaBethulia

      If it was written only to believers… why the need for the Bible?

  • hmnedith

    Thank you for this! As someone who’s struggled with severe mental illness, I HATE it when people just throw ‘inspiring’ quotes at me (or worse, scold me for being depressed, or tell me to get over it, because not being able to do much because my brain basically broke is a sin or something). Inspiring stories DO help me… But I can find them myself, thank you very much. And it’s not silly little platitudes or “but God will be by you!” that helps – it’s seeing someone with my same pain, and working through it with them. It’s in depth conversations, not sound-bites. If you can say it in seven seconds, trust me, it doesn’t help in the long term. It might get someone through the next five minutes, it might make things worse. What inspires you doesn’t necessarily inspire other people. If you want to help lift me out of depression, fine, but don’t try to butt into my private life. Just… be nice. Hold open doors, smile, offer to help. Stop it with the thinking you can barge into my life and magically fix everything.

  • MarcusFenix

    Just seems the author tried to pull more meaning of out things that needed to be…Nirvana fallacy, on some level, maybe?

  • Joseph Gorka

    The promises in the Bible, The Word of Holy God, are NOT, I repeat, NOT to every person on earth. The promises are to His children. To those who believe in God and His Son, Jesus, and are called according to His purpose. If you don’t have a personal relationship with God, NONE of the Bible is written to you. None of the promises apply to you. NONE.

    • AtalantaBethulia

      Hm. Really?

      For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son… John 3:16

      Matthew 5:43- 48

      “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.