Day 9 of Lent

Some sayings are so engrained in society that they are offered without objection or afterthought.  Take for example a saying that is not in the Bible and can have only minor theological value:

"God helps those who help themselves."

I've only heard this in the context of separating the "haves" and "have-nots" - we look at those who are "blessed" and say, "Look, you gotta pick yourself up by your bootstraps.  God helps those who help themselves."

Or we see someone who is degenerate, shrug, and offer, "It isn't because God doesn't love them.  God helps those who help themselves."

The saying doesn't come from the Bible.  It is attributed to Benajmin Franklin and I read somewhere it may have come from an English politician who was eventually executed for opposing the crown.  Anyway....

This often used saying is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The very nature of Jesus Christ is to come for those who cannot help themselves.  Let me back up.

The Old Testament is the history of a chosen people (The Jews) who continually prove how helpless they are by themselves.  God provides their every need once brought out of Egypt.  Literally helping them when they cannot help themselves.  Lest they forget how helpless they are, the Jews main religious holiday remembers how God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt.  Fundamental to the Jewish identity is a notion that you are helpless without God's help.

To that end, Israel received grace upon grace.  They received the Torah (law) that would help them be the faithful covenant people they were called to be.  They received a covenant to be God's people.  They would be separate, holy, and different than the rest of the world.  The rest of the world would learn from Israel how to be a godly nation.

Several laws were established that cared for... those who can help themselves?  No.  Orphans, widows, and the impoverished were explicitly held up in God's holy law.  One of Israel's dictates was to care for the helpless.  Sure, there were laws to keep all of Israel holy - but it is the "haves" who must care for the "have-nots" by God's holy decree.  To not do so is to forget how helpless Israel once was.

Fast forward to Jesus.  Israel is a nation that, again, is under the rule of a foreign power (Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Rome, etcetc)  Again, helpless.  Although this time, trapped not only under Roman rule, but more subtly, bound between proverbial rock and a hard place: Hellenistic culture and the Jewish religious whiplash of legalism.  Some kept the law "so well" that it had replaced their relationship with a Living God.

Jesus told the Pharisees he didn't come for those who were healthy, he came for the sick.  The outcast.  The widow, orphan, prostitute, tax collector.  From the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 4 (lips of Jesus, but Isaiah 58/61) -
Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Why did Jesus come?  To save those who are beyond helping themselves.  In lest we think now that Jesus comes we can simply do it ourselves, Jesus tells us he sends the Holy Paraclete (that's Advocate/Spirit/Comforter to most of us) to help us.

There is never a moment in the Christian life that Jesus says, "Okay!  You've completed your training, you don't need me anymore."  And I don't mean to strip the saying of any positivity - but if we think we help ourselves, we deceive ourselves.

Take it away Proverbs 28:26!  "Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe."

And from Paul, who's words these days seem to have the more weight than Jesus' words, from Romans 5:6-8 - "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Don't read too much into my approach.  I'm a thorough Wesleyan and believe we can freely choose Christ - but even that is possible because of God's prevenient grace through Christ.

Can the saying be saved?  Only if it is used in the context of saying that God honors our efforts.  But then you shouldn't say "God helps those who help themselves" you should instead say, "God helps those who need help." or "God helps those who ask for help."  Both, I believe, are true.

But we should probably stop saying this.  Instead, may we lift high the risen Christ as our savior and proclaim (for ourselves and others),

"God helps those who can't help themselves."