On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted on a resolution “reaffirming ‘In God We Trust’ as the official motto of the United States.” Yesterday, President Obama responded, “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney amplified the president’s remarks later in the day: “I believe that phrase in the Bible is ‘the Lord helps those who help themselves.'”
When I read Mr. Carney’s remarks, I debated whether or not to respond to them this morning. I have always tried to avoid statements in these essays that could be construed as support for a political candidate or party. I would make the following comment whether Mr. Carney worked for a Democrat or a Republican.
Here’s my assertion: “God helps those who help themselves” is the most dangerous belief in America today.
Mr. Carney is unfortunately in the majority: 75% of us believe the statement is in the Bible; 68% of those who profess to be born-again Christians agree. However, the pronouncement was actually originated by Algernon Sydney in 1698; it made its way into Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1757 and then into the nation’s psyche.
It is the quintessential declaration of America’s self-help religion. We are a self-made nation, created by hardworking, courageous pioneers who risked and sacrificed their lives to build and defend our country. We believe we can do anything if we get up earlier, stay up later, work longer and try harder. We baptize our self-reliance in the belief that the more we do, the more God will bless us.
What does the Bible actually say? “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). How does he view our self-sufficient works? “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). How can we be saved from our sins? “While we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Now, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). When we need his help, how does God respond? “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in his distress” (Isaiah 25:4).
Why is Ben Franklin’s statement so dangerous? Because self-reliance is spiritual suicide. We desperately need God’s guidance and help in dealing with the seemingly insurmountable challenges our nation faces today. But like the father waiting for his prodigal son to return home, he cannot help us unless we admit we need his help. The first step to national renewal is clear: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves…” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Would you join me in praying for a spirit of humility and repentance to sweep our nation? Can it begin with you?