It seems like a list such as this one, “7 Unbiblical Statements Christians Believe,” makes the rounds every few months. I can affirm a couple of these with only a little qualification. Even number one, Ben Franklin’s aphorism, “God helps those who help themselves,” isn’t terrible, as anyone who commits to the daily practice of prayer and Bible study can attest: sleeping late certainly doesn’t help you grow closer to God! Nevertheless, it is only by God’s grace that we are able to grow closer to him—or accomplish anything good.
My point is, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and. But to reject personal responsibility would put us at odds with much of scripture, including many Proverbs, not to mention many words of Jesus, including the Parable of the Talents, for instance.
Regarding number two, “God wants me to be happy,” I would say the following: God does want us to be happy—so long as we understand that biblical “happiness” or blessedness comes only through our relationship with God. After all, Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the words “Happy are those who…” Paul tells us to rejoice always. Whatever else “rejoice” means, it implies a kind of deep happiness.
The Book of Acts has Peter and John feeling happy and grateful that they were considered worthy of suffering for the Lord.
Regarding number five, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” it’s hard for me to see how this isn’t true, at least for those of us who trust in the Lord: God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, in the sense that through faith his grace is sufficient for whatever we’re facing (2 Corinthians 12:9). Even if we face the worst case scenario—martyrdom, say—won’t God give us the strength and courage to handle it? Obviously, “handling” it doesn’t always (or usually?) mean coming out of a crisis unscathed, though we can trust, as Paul says in Romans 8:28, that God is using the crisis for our good.
Speaking of providence, let me put a plug for an often-scorned aphorism that isn’t on the list—probably only because the author forgot about it. (It’s been on other, similar lists.): “Everything happens for a reason.”
By all means, terrible, evil things happen, which God certainly doesn’t cause, but which he has the power to prevent if he wants. If we believe God answers prayer, what’s the alternative? If God chooses not to grant our petition for someone’s physical healing, for example, does he have a good reason or is it arbitrary? If God allows something to happen, we can only assume that he does so for a reason—even if only to prevent something worse from happening later on.
As I’ve said before, we Wesleyan Christians, in general, are so afraid of being “Calvinist” that we miss out on having a robust belief in God’s sovereignty. I find it immensely comforting, for example, to know that whatever I’m facing in life, God is using it for his purposes: it’s happening for a reason, whether we see it or not, and God is bringing good from it.
Sometimes, when it comes to my more progressive colleagues in ministry, I want to ask, “Do you think God does anything in the world, or does he just sit around feeling awful that we have to go through all this bad stuff?” How many times have I heard or read a Methodist minister, not to mention many progressive Christian bloggers, say that we can only count on God “being present” in the midst of suffering. Well, yes, God is present in our suffering, but he’s also working through it to accomplish good! We’re going through whatever we’re going through because he wants us to. If he didn’t, we wouldn’t.
Granted, in a world without the Fall, without sin, he may not want us to suffer, but given that we live in this world, he’d rather us experience suffering than some alternative in which we’re protected from it.
This blog post gives me a sermon series idea: examine each of these popular sayings from a biblical point of view and consider what we can affirm about them and what we can reject.