“God helps those who help themselves” is probably one most misquoted passages in the English language. In a recent study by the Barna Group, a religious research and visionary company, they report that 75% of Christians say the phrase is “the central message of the Bible.” 75% of the population obviously doesn’t know their Bible very well because the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is NOT part of the Biblical cannon. In fact, the phrase runs contrary to everything the Bible is trying to say!
Unfortunately, our American culture is saturated with the idea that whatever success we achieve in life is due to our own efforts. If we are not successful (by American standards) then we must be lazy. Thinking this way allows us to criticize those less fortunate, those who use food stamps, are on Medicaid, or maybe homeless. “God helps those who help themselves” creates a shell of callousness, insensitivity, and cruelty around our hearts.
Those who follow Jesus are called to see things differently. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, says that God initiates love and grace in our lives even before we are born. God is not a cruel taskmaster who only steps in to help when we have shown enough resolve and perseverance to help ourselves. God is a God who is there in the midst of our shortcomings, failures, and sin. God is there when we help ourselves and when we are not able to help.
This Sunday we continue our series, Half Truths: Things the Bible Doesn’t Say. In the sermon, we will talk about the often misquoted phrase, “God helps those who help themselves,” and how we can reorder the words in such a way as to better represent God’s message of mercy, grace, and love to the world.
I like this analogy from Alexander Maclaren. In the analogy, he tells of a jar being lowered into the ocean. He says,
“You can take a jar, lower it tightly capped into the deepest ocean, and when you draw it out again it will be as dry inside as though it had been in an oven.”
The point is that you can live your whole life surrounded by the ocean of God’s love but if you don’t open yourself up to that love, it will never fill your life. I would suggest that saying things like, “God helps those who help themselves,” keeps your jar (heart) sealed. Think about it.