HALF-TRUTH. That’s the topic of a sermon series my creative pastor is preaching. Yesterday’s half-truth was this: God helps those who help themselves.
For those casually surveyed Americans who told late-night TV host Jay Leno that this was one of the 10 Commandments: No it’s not.
It’s not even in the Bible.
It’s in Greek tragedies, in one paraphrase or another:
- “Heaven never helps the men who will not do anything.” Philoctetes
- “Try it yourself first, and then call in God. For God helps the worker.” Hippolytus
It’s in Aesop’s Fables, too. The moral of one fable: Help yourself and Heaven will help you, too.
But it was Ben Franklin who nailed the phrasing for Americans when he wrote Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1736.
It’s true enough, I suppose, that God helps us when we work ourselves ragged. I sure felt like I had help when I worked in that Ohio rubber factory to pay my way through the journalism program at Kent State University. And I felt like I had help when I worked full-time at Nazarene Church Headquarters while taking nearly a full academic load at Nazarene Theological Seminary.
But what about that gent I met in Downtown Kansas City with frostbite on his face because he slept outside on a frigid night and fell asleep without covering his head?
Who the dickens is going to help him help himself?
Where does he start?
Should he start by getting a job?
How does he do that when he’s sleeping outside? Especially if he’s sleeping outside because he has some kind of illness that got him there in the first place – whether physical or mental.
Who’s going to help him write his resume?
What’s he going to wear to the interview?
How’s he going to get there without a car?
What kind of impression will he make with a frostbitten face and a growling stomach?
Some people need a God who helps those who can’t help themselves.
And I think God needs people who know that.
Excellent post this morning, Stephen. In the Christianity I follow, the words “merit” and “deserve” have no value. I shudder to think where I would be if God dealt with me in a way I deserve. Even the best and brightest of God’s people are in constant need of His unearned care and blessing. We grow a great deal spiritually when we come to understand that. So the unfortunate homeless man smokes expensive cigarettes? It is for us to provide assistance and allow God to do whatever judging He deems proper.
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks, Tom. Well, said.
This expression drives me crazy — it is so opposite of Scriptural teaching. In fact, God helps anyone, and especially those who can’t help themselves. Where would we be if God didn’t help us when we can’t? Where would our neighbors be if we didn’t help them? Where would humanity be if God didn’t help us when we were powerless to do it ourselves!
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6 NIV)
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks, Wayne. Yeah, the expression is a tad irritating. Sorry, Mr. Franklin. We know you were a hard worker.