Menu Close

Proverbs 3:5 – A Horrible Bible Verse

As a young Christian, I remember hearing Proverbs 3:5-6 a lot in church. It’s a popular “life verse” for many. If you’re not familiar with the term ‘life verse’, it’s a Bible verse or passage that a Christian chooses to base their life around. It’s a verse that they feel is one of the most profound in the whole Bible — a verse that truly “speaks to them”.

Here’s Proverbs 3:5-6 in all its glory:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

While I was under the spell of the Christian faith, I admit thinking Proverbs 3:5-6 was a good passage of scripture. But lets break down why these verses are horrible, and why it so aptly defines religious fundamentalism by giving it a proper rephrasing:

Trust in an imaginary being who is unseen and unheard. Place your total and complete trust in this make-believe character. Don’t think about it. Even though it’s contrary to logic and good sense, just do it. How far should you abandon yourself? In all ways. Submit yourself totally to this mythical figure, and even though he never communicates in any real tangible way, he will guide your future paths.

These verses do a good job of defining fundamentalism because they tell you “not to think”. Just believe. Even when things are contrary to logical human understanding, disregard it. Don’t trust your own brain.

If you’re a Christian and you believe Proverbs 3:5-6 is the literal word of God, why do you believe this? Why would a God who supposedly created your brain and gave you your ability to think; why would he turn around and tell you to “not think”? And how is this not cult-like? Cult leaders make it a point to tell their followers “don’t think about it!” just “trust me”. Why would God use the tactic of a cult leader to inspire his followers into total abandonment?

Proverbs 3:5-6 is often targeted to children, and Christians will beat kids over the head with those verses. Children are encouraged to memorize those verses. Psychologist Valerie Tarico puts it well when she says: “One of the problems with faith-based teaching is it teaches children not to trust their own reason and intuition, undermining their ability to have confidence in their own knowledge and ability to process information. There is a lot of psychological damage that follows when people are trained not to trust themselves.

Sadly, this is all part of being under a spell. As a former Christian, I remember being very offended when I heard about Daniel Dennett’s book, ‘Breaking the Spell’. I was also offended by Dawkin’s book, ‘The God Delusion’. How dare they say I’m under a spell or that I’m deluded!! They are just too blind to see the truth! But it was my honest and diligent search for truth that ultimately led me to see that I was under a spell.

I wish I had the words to convey how much better life is now. It is truly more fulfilling. Freedom of the mind is a wonderful thing.




  1. *Rae

    Very interesting! When I first started getting into the Bible I was reading it out of context which a lot of Christians do. I avoid basing my faith around one snippet or verse in favor of focusing on consistent concepts in the Bible. But great post about Proverbs 3:5. You’re absolutely right about it.

    • Clay

      Hi Rae, thanks for the visit and comment. I’m confused though by the response. You seem to agree with my post about Proverbs 3:5 (which says that the God of the Bible is imaginary and mythical), but you said that you focus on consistent concepts in the Bible as part of your faith. ?? Can you clarify?

      • *Rae

        I agreed with the part about taking specific verses and basing faith and practices on one snippet, out of context. I believe in God but try to avoid misusing verses by taking them out of context. Granted I do have my favorite verses but I avoid emphasizing a few verses in favor of focusing on the Bible in its entirety.

        • Clay

          I appreciate the clarification and I respect your careful approach. I’d argue though that Proverbs 3:5 is a verse that stands well on its own, and the sentiment of 3:5 is in harmony with the Bible as a whole. For example: “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.” (Prov 28:26); or from Jeremiah 10:23, “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” or 1 Cor 3:18-20 which declares that men are fools if they think for themselves.

          So Proverbs 3:5-6 is very clear in what it’s saying and it’s in harmony with other passages of the Bible. And I’ll reiterate that it is a horrible Bible verse and it’s a sentiment that any cult leader would clearly embrace.

        • *Rae

          True. I just meant that Proverbs was written mostly by King Solomon who (and I could be mistaken) wasn’t a Prophet like Isaiah or Jeremiah. So even though it’s a great verse and it is consistent with other concepts throughout the Bible. It’s still something that comes from Solomon’s own wisdom. Versus a direct message from God to a selected Prophet. Not bashing Proverbs though lol it’s one of my favorite books because of the wisdom it contains. But that’s information I apply in my daily life as practical information the same way I apply knowledge from fitness gurus. It’s in the Bible so certainly has some spiritual value. But not the same as those written in the New Testament or Exodus. Again this is just my own opinion. So no harm intended.

  2. Brent

    So true.

    The way I describe it is that the Bible’s promises (a Christian would say “God’s” promises) are worthless without blind faith, because they all come with a little asterisk and caveat. Psalm 103:3, he heals all your diseases* (*except when he doesn’t; just trust that although you or your loved one died, he loves you so much and has something better planned!). Matthew 6:25-33, don’t worry, he will clothe and feed you* (*except when he doesn’t; but this life is short and heaven will be wonderful!). etc. etc.

    When humans make and break promises in this way, we don’t hesitate to call them “untrustworthy”. But the God character gets a pass whether the promise is fulfilled or not, because he’s mysterious, and we can’t hope to understand him, but are just supposed to trust him anyway.

    This is why, when I boil down to the core all my many issues and reasons for leaving Christianity, faith is at the root of them all. I don’t have it, and in fact I believe it is absolutely the wrong way to discover what’s true.

    • Clay

      Brent, that’s very well said. And your phrase “except when he doesn’t” is so very spot on!

  3. TheShadow

    I have often wondered that. Why give someone intellect and then expect them to refrain from using it? Why give women intelligence and abilities and then expect them to become nothing more than breeding and feeding machines?

  4. Peter

    The following is the exact wording of an email I sent my boss at work in mid 2010:

    We discussed the matter of my future plans last week. I thought I should let you know that I am presently considering an alternative path, which has the potential to come to fruition somewhat sooner that the six month time frame we had discussed.

    However at this stage I am not sure whether this path is appropriate or not. It is a matter of discerning what God wants me to do, that is my aim. As you might be aware God can work in mysterious ways.

    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight” Proverbs 3:5-6

    Sorry about all this, however I had agreed to let you know what was on my mind, so I thought I should give you an early “heads up”.

    I had felt ‘drawn’ to ministry and was unsure what to do and visited a lady who was a spiritual mentor. She had a box of Scriptures and said she would pray and ask me to pull one out at random as she knew it would be “God’s” message for me. Well it happened to be the verse from Proverbs that you cite. So I interpreted this as confirmation that I should follow a path to ministry and what followed was that I negotiated with my employer that I could take leave to start theological study.

    Indeed within 5 years I had left my job and been ordained a church minister. But the consequence of my theological study was an increasing level of cognitive dissonance that eventually led to my realisation that the Bible contained clear errors and inconsistencies which shattered my confidence in the book and led to me abandoning faith and Christianity.

    • Clay

      Peter, thanks for sharing your story. My reaction is just, wow. But understandable, and I can imagine responding the same if I’d had a similar experience.

      It reminds me of that familiar joke/story that we’ve all probably heard: The story is about a man who was desperate for spiritual direction and so he opened his Bible and read the first verse that came to him. The first verse he found was Matthew 27:5 which says Judas “went and hanged himself.” Since he was not sure how this verse applied to himself, he flipped to another passage and the Bible fell open to Luke 10:37: “Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” The man was quite upset and he did not know how he could ever obey that, so he decided to turn to one more place. Again he opened the Bible at random and to his horror his finger fell upon John 13:27: “Then said Jesus unto him, What thou doest, do quickly.”

  5. Michael Vito Tosto

    Hey, remember me? the Atheist writer Michael Vito Tosto? I’m just letting my old followers know that I’m up and running again. Feel free to connect or follow me again! I appreciated your support on my former blog.

  6. Stephanie Hunter

    The Bible is full of counsel about how to think a better thought. It doesn’t tell us not to think. The Bible must be interpreted line upon line, precept upon precept. It must be “rightly divided”. I understand frustration with the Bible. But it seems like you’re not that interested in asking God to help you understand it before you try to read it.

    Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

    Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

    Romans 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

    Ephesians 4:23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind….

    • Clay

      Thanks for the visit and for taking the time to join the conversation.

      I agree with you that the Bible is full of helpful wisdom in various places. Proverbs, for example, contains some good practical counsel, and the general teaching of love and forgiveness in the Bible is terrific. The story of Joseph in Genesis is a favorite of mine.

      However, please don’t assume I wasn’t interested in fully understanding the heart or message of the Bible. I was and I did. You’re likely not aware of my background. You can read a fairly short and concise post here on Patheos about me.

      And I want to re-emphasize: Proverbs 3:5 does tell its audience to distrust their own brain. It says “don’t lean on your own understanding”. I will state again — that is exactly what a cult leader will emphasize to his followers, “Just do I what I tell you! Even if it doesn’t make sense to you!!”.

      My hope is that readers *will* read the Bible, but they should read it all with an open mind, not a closed one. I would encourage readers to also examine other religious texts: the Quran; the Bhagavad Gita; Book of Mormon, just to name a few.

      And I would specifically ask you to take the Easter Challenge, which Dan Barker (a former minister) first wrote about. The challenge is simply this: tell me what happened on Easter. We’re not asking for proof. Just tell me exactly what happened on the most important day of Christianity.

      The conditions of the challenge are simple and reasonable. In each of the four Gospels, begin at Easter morning and read to the end of the book: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21. Also read Acts 1:3-12 and Paul’s tiny version of the story in I Corinthians 15:3-8. These 165 verses can be read in a few moments. Then, without omitting a single detail from these separate accounts, write a simple, chronological narrative of the events between the resurrection and the ascension: what happened first, second, and so on; who said what, when; and where these things happened.

      Since the gospels do not always give precise times of day, it is permissible to make educated guesses. The narrative does not have to pretend to present a perfect picture — it only needs to give at least one plausible account of all of the facts. Additional explanation of the narrative may be set apart in parentheses. The important condition to the challenge, however, is that not one single biblical detail be omitted. Fair enough?

      • Nan

        I’ve never seen this challenge before. Wish I had because there’s been a few blog “discussions” where it would have been very fitting to mention.

        I did something similar in my book … copied the various gospel versions and pointed out the disparities. It’s really amazing how they differ … and how few believers are aware of this.

  7. Inspiration

    Trust the lord you God lean not in your own understanding. This passage is absolutely correct. It is simply saying that there is a higher understanding beyond your human understanding. If you car breaks down on your way to work. As human you can simply be put off …the car is broken but if you don’t trust in the lord that is God he will provide you wisdom to handle the suitation. God is a highest intelligence.

    • Nan

      You can trust in your “higher understanding” if you prefer, but I feel more comfortable living in the real world where things just happen and aren’t in any way directed by a “higher intelligence.”

  8. Inspiration

    Then what would your life be like Nan. Trusting in the lord simply put absolute dependence on God abilities for a better way to see things in life. There is more to every thing under the sun.

    • Logan

      Hello, thanks for visiting and participating in the conversation. You should know that the majority of us here are former Christians. That includes Nan. I was a committed believer for over 30 years. I would encourage you to really examine the evidence. Research how the Bible was put together which includes the fact that the four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are from unknown authors, dated several decades after Christ’s death, and written in a language not spoken by the apostles. Research the discrepancies and contradictions about the resurrection details, the death of Judas, and what Jesus might have said while on the cross. Ask yourself if God has truly, audibly spoken to you? Prayer is a one-sided conversation that makes us feel better. But there’s never anyone on the other end of the “phone line”. We just imagine responses. Ask yourself if anyone has ever been healed through prayer of those who are missing an arm or leg (amputees). Why is that? Ask yourself why there’s truly little difference in the morality or kindness of people who are Christians vs. non-Christians. Nan has a terrific book that I’d encourage you to explore too:

      • Inspiration

        God have never spoken to anyone and will never speak to anyone. He is a spirit you can’t hear him with your physical ears. We relate with God with our spirit. I am not a religious lady . I am spiritual li ving in a physical world We are not created to be religious. That is not God’s intent. MAN limits himself to be religion (going to church ,clapping,standing repeating written prayer and on and on). Prayer is a request you can access through your spirit .you want answers .

  9. Inspiration

    The answer is not a physical response. For instance God want to write a Magazine. The respone it is not a magazine. Rather. God release a creative spirit it is like an impression upon you. If you genuinely ask for a good purpose. Suddenly ideas you see your resources coming your way. Prayer is not necessary talking. Your desires are prayers even your worries. Shine your eyes@ logan . We are spiritual not religious. Escape from religion. Be careful what church you go to . I worship at purity hills church. I am okay. If your legs are cut and you want it back. Please Pray call me 08038481555. The Bible has a lot of mistakes yes it does. For your information the bible is not God’s word. No body has heard God.

  10. Scientific Christian

    Your understanding of this verse;

    “Trust in an imaginary being who is unseen and unheard. Place your total and complete trust in this make-believe character. Don’t think about it. Even though it’s contrary to logic and good sense, just do it. How far should you abandon yourself? In all ways. Submit yourself totally to this mythical figure, and even though he never communicates in any real tangible way, he will guide your future paths.”

    Of course, this take is only conceivable once you commit to atheism a priori and interpret the Bible with this presumption, and not to mention, taking an intentionally partial and negative view of God. In other words, the entire post is totally biased, Proverbs 3:5-6 is a fabulous passage that tells us to rest on God’s understanding even if you don’t know what’s happening in your life, and that you should trust God to guide your path. This advice has been amazing to me personally.

  11. ElizabethM

    I agree.
    Why did God even bother to forbid Adam and Eve from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? He could have just made a tree of knowledge with forbidden fruit, instead.
    Why is there suffering in the world? Why does the food chain exist? The first humans on the planet tried to understand something. God was offended, because He had a plan. God wanted humans to be haphazard morons. We violated that plan. The stench of humans sin still reaches up to the Heavens, to this day. Wow, that is a stupid reason for damning all of humanity to hell.

Leave a Reply

Discover more from Life After 40

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading