Our current sermon series is based on the assertions made in Rev. Adam Hamilton’s book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” They are simple phrases. They sound Christian – like something you might even find in the Bible:
▪ Everything happens for a reason
▪ God helps those who help themselves
▪ God won’t give you more than you can handle
▪ God said it, I believe it, that settles it
▪ Love the sinner, hate the sin
We’ve all heard these words. Maybe we’ve said them. They capture some element of truth – yet they also miss the point in very important ways.
We’ll be taking one saying per week through the month of January and into February and learning about why they are only half-true.
Join us each week! If you have to miss, be sure to read the Midweek Missive during the following week. Order the book here.
Rev. Paula Steinbacher
God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
There’s a reason that Rev. Adam Hamilton uses this particular “Half Truth” as the sub-title of his book, “Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say.” In a recent study from theBarna Group, they found that more than eight out of ten Americans think that this phrase is scriptural!
It is a very common misconception that it is found within our sacred texts, but the very first written record of this saying is from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, published in 1732!
And perhaps there is not a more “American” saying than this Puritan ideal that seems to encourage hard work and diligence, with a promise of God’s Providence.
As our friend and retired pastor, Rev. Bob Bielenberg said, “It’s good advice; it’s just not scriptural.”
And it is good advice. God surely helps those who help themselves, especially when they call out to God for help.
But the half-truth portion comes in when we begin to place conditions on God’s help. Does God ONLY help those who help themselves? No, indeed it is more scriptural to affirm that God helps those who cannot help themselves. Listen to these readings from the Psalms:
Psalm 10:14, 17-18
“The helpless commit themselves to you;
you have been the helper of the orphan…
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
you will strengthen their heart,
you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed.”
From Psalm 18:6,16
“In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From God’s temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears…
He reached down from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of mighty waters.”
From Psalm 121:1-2
“I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
These are just a few of the readings from Psalms where we are assured that God will help the helpless. And throughout the Hebrew scriptures we hear a God that not only wants us to help the helpless, but demands we help. Look at just this one law from Leviticus 23:22:
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.”
I cannot express to you how often the theme of the “Poor and oppressed” shows up throughout our Hebrew Scriptures. Most often we hear this in the theme, “Orphan, widow, and alien,” because those were the oppressed of the oppressed; people so disenfranchised and so separated from society that they could not possibly “help themselves.” God demands, through the law and through the voice of the prophet, that we pay special attention to them.
So this half-truth is actually less than half-truth. As Adam Hamilton says, it is more like a 1/3 truth. It’s true in the sense that God will help us when we have the ability to help ourselves; but it is not true because God helps us when we can’t help ourselves; and it is not true in the because God demands us to help those who can’t help themselves.
So, good advice, but only partially true. It would be so much better to shorten this phrase down to “God Helps.” That’s a whole truth, and it is one we are assured of throughout scripture.
God helps. No strings attached; no conditions implied. God. Helps.
Of course we certainly can’t cry out for help and then just wait for some supernatural hand to come sweeping out of the sky to save us though — we have to keep our eyes open for the ways God is helping us.
I recount the old joke about the man who is in a flood where the waters have risen to the point where he has had to climb out onto his roof. He cries out to God, “Rescue me, God!”
Soon a boat floats by, but the man declines to get in the boat. “God will save me,” he says to the rescuer. The water continues to rise and eventually a helicopter flies overhead. The team of rescuers in the helicopter lower down a ladder and ask him to climb on. “No — that’s okay! God will save me.”
Well of course the man drowns. When he finds himself at the pearly gates, he asks God, “God! I was so faithful. I prayed and trusted that you were going to save me. Why didn’t you answer my prayer?”
God answers him, “I sent a boat and a helicopter! What more did you want?”
Yes — God helps those who help themselves. And sometimes that help comes in the form of another person reaching out to give us precisely what we need!
And it’s really important that you recognize the times in which God is helping through you. There are times when your smile, encouragement, kind word or loving act is indeed the way God is helping the helpless. If you’re focused on whether or not the person you are helping “deserves” help or meets the condition of “being able to help himself,” you may actually be keeping God from caring for the person in need because of your own judgemental inaction.
May you be attuned to the ways God is using you to meet the needs of the helpless, and may you also always remember to cry out to God in your distress — trusting that God helps.
With Assurance and Hope,
During our recent Extravagant Generosity Stewardship Campaign, I asked those in attendance to write down the reasons why they support CEH through their gifts of time, talent, and/or treasure. We had so many wonderful responses! I’ll be featuring them over the next month or so. I hope you enjoy reading the reasons why people attend and support CEH:
I give because I get so much from this church and the people in it.
I give to try to give thanks for all of the blessings in my life.
I give to Jesus because it makes me feel good about how I’m living my life.
Help to make a difference in our community.
The last couple of years have been a bit trying for us. We feel blessed to be a part of CEH and appreciate the prayers that have helped us through a difficult time. We have not been able to do our fair share but hope that will change in the future. (Margaret Engel)
I don’t know but I will continue to try.
It makes me feel good inside – and I feel good about helping others.
I give my time, talent, and treasure to Jesus Christ because I am thankful for the life He’s blessed me with. I want to live to the fullest to praise Him and glorify Him.
Because I have compassion and feel for those who are in need. Because I know what it is like to be without and I have been in need and therefore I have been given things that help me go thru life.