America. The land of opportunity. A refuge for the persecuted, the downtrodden, the sick and poor. The Colossus, a sonnet inscribed in the Statue of Liberty exemplifies our nations foundation with it’s closing:
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– Emma Lazarus
We tell our children that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up. We glorify the Cinderella story in which one pulls himself up by his bootstraps and makes his own place in the world. My grandfather told my dad as he started his first job, “Keep your back bent and your head down and everything will be fine”. Work hard. You will be justly rewarded.
And then we spiritualize it: “God helps those who help themselves” (Ben Franklin).
But is that true?
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.”
– John 12.24-25
Spiritually, the occurrence of salvation can only happen if and when we realize that we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves – we are sinful and need a savior. We must fall to the earth and die. If we try to earn our salvation, all of our efforts are nothing before God:
“For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
– Is 64.6
Once we are saved, we must abide in Christ to do everything. Literally, everything:
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
How does this apply to the day-to-day? Does God promise to bless our business endeavors if we are diligent? He promises to meet our needs and to never leave us (Luke 11.13, Heb 13.5). And He warns against storing up treasures on Earth where moth and rust destroy (Matt 6.19).
Scripture is clear, consequently, that we must be good citizens (Rom 13), care for the poor (James 1.27) and work diligently:
“If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”
– 2 Thess 3.10
So I guess it ultimately comes down to defining of terms. What do we mean by “God helps those who hep themselves”? We cannot work towards our salvation or standing before God. And God does not ever promise monetary or temporal blessings for hard work. We often erroneously associate stuff with blessings. I think sometimes the possessions we accumulate hurt our faith. It is a blessing or a curse that we have a toy for which we must work to pay off, or fix?
Our American ethnocentrism assumes that we have an elite culture and society because we have the most conveniences and stuff. However, I have known Christians around the world who pray for and pity Christians here because we are enslaved to our lusts, entertainment and self. We think they need more stuff. They find their satisfaction and joy in God.
Who do you think gets it right?
But God does enable those who abide in Him to do everything. To live in times of wealth, in times of poverty, to make His name known and to stand strong under persecution. Yes, God helps those who abide in Him to do all things, through Christ, who strengthens him (Phil 4.13).