** This is part 3 of my series on Christian cliches. They’re meant for good but end up doing more harm in the long run**
God helps those who help themselves?
As you can see in this video, Stephen Colbert takes Bill O’Reilly to task for wrongly attributing this [sad] cliche (amongst other things) to Jesus, yet he is not alone. In February of 2000 George Barna did a poll asking if “The Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves” and the results were eye-opening:
- 53% of Americans agree strongly [that is could be found in the Bible]
- 22% agree somewhat
- 7% disagree somewhat
- 14% disagree strongly
- 5% stated they don’t know
Of “born-again” Christians 68% agreed, and 81% of non “born-again” Christians agreed with the statement. Despite being of non-Biblical origin, the phrase topped a poll of the most widely known Bible verses. Seventy-five percent (75%) of American teens said they believed that it was the central message of the Bible.
The problem with this belief is that is directly conflicts with the Bible’s view of God’s kindness towards people, none of whom deserve it – “grace”. It suggests a spiritual self-reliance inconsistent with the God of the Bible. The essence of this cliche is that if you work hard and take care of your own business, God will intervene where necessary. In other words, do your job and God will do his. While we have responsibilities as those who bear the image of God, God is NOT OBLIGATED to intervene in our lives or act in prescribed ways, simply because we did our part. God does not owe us….anything! He is not in our debt; we are in His.
Let me be clear – THIS IS NOT IN SCRIPTURE. People treat it like it is, but it’s not. Benjamin Franklin penned this in the Farmers’ Almanac in 1757 and it can be found from other non biblical sources even earlier. God does not help those who can help themselves, simply because no one can help do so. We cannot save ourselves from our bondage to sin, nor from the wrath of God, so He does. Our own power fails us when we rely on it, rather than God. To believe that God helps those who help themselves, is not only foolish, but it’s proud. Pride motivates the belief that we can do everything by our own gusto and go-to attitude. That we can pick ourselves up by our spiritual & moral bootstraps, but, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. This is hard for us here in the U.S. but we must learn to work through God’s grace and not our own works.
**Over the next few weeks I would love to address other Christian cliches, if there are some that you’ve wondered about please let me know in the comments below and I will try to address them in the upcoming weeks.**