“God helps those who help themselves.”
That’s one of the most often quoted, most popular Bible verses.
Except it’s not in the Bible at all. It didn’t take long for people to point out Carney’s mistake. But most people would’ve made it. And in a culture that still considers itself “Christian,” it says a lot about what we think of God.
The questionable verse supposedly came from Ben Franklin (and from ancient Greece before him). You have to admit, the man had a way with words, second only perhaps to divinely inspired scripture…
…Because the phrase embedded itself in American minds and it’s been with Americans ever since they began to believe they had a divine destiny.
It goes right along with the American pioneering spirit. We are a nation of trailblazers. We forge our own destinies with raw grit and determination. We bend the wild frontier to our will. We have a slightly unhealthy obsession with our Protestant work ethic.
And we worship individualism. Americans rank number one in the world when it comes to regard for the individual. We don’t believe in collective unity (unless there’s a common enemy whose ass needs kicking.) When Hillary Clinton said that it takes a village to raise a child, the resulting uproar would’ve never made sense in any other culture. But many Americans assumed she meant citizens should turn over their children to the federal government for re-education.
We believe in rags to riches stories, and if we’re willing to help ourselves, God will chip in too.
Of course, if Christians really thought about that phrase (and how much it means to us as Americans,) they’d realize how it should make no sense to them as Christians.
If God helps those who help themselves…
…Then God doesn’t really have a plan. But He’s willing to tag along with whatever you’re up to.
…Then God is pretty much a useless accessory…like an appendix. It doesn’t hurt to carry Him along, but it probably won’t hurt much if you get rid of Him.
…Then Jesus is pretty pointless. Because life is still about doing it myself. The whole death on a cross thing was a nice gesture, but probably a tad over-dramatic.
…Then you are better off trusting yourself. You’re going to be doing most of the grunt work in life. God will help out, but only if you make it easy on Him.
Of course, if you’re really in the mood to think, you’d realize that the phrase can’t possibly be true because people have all kinds of competing motivations, so how can God help everyone simply because they are “helping themselves.” I guess you have to assume that peoples’ intentions are generally good, which of course, we do. We love to think that we are generally good-natured, well-intentioned creatures. God seems to disagree.
If Ben Franklin really borrowed the phrase and helped make it an American motto, then we have to consider what kind of a man he was. He wasn’t a Christian. He admitted that. At best, he thought that God might exist, but He keeps his hands out of our business. He believed that people are better off relying on themselves because God won’t help them.
And that’s basically our American god. A deity who is like a helpful but generally lazy friend who will probably stay on the couch until we have a plan and we ask him nicely to help out, preferably bribing Him with pizza and beer.
And if that’s the kind of God Americans worship, it makes you wonder just how “Christian” we’ve been all along.
What do you think? Is it a harmless phrase? Is it probably true? Or is it a sinister lie? Is the world today a result of people “helping themselves,” or a result of God helping people?