From the mailbag:
1) “I can do all things,” Paul wrote to the Philippians, “through Him who strengthens me.”
Frankly, I’ve always believed Franklin’s quote is not so much counter-Biblical, as it is a reminder that – while believing in the sovereignty of God – one should also wear a seatbelt.
2) That reminds me of the joke about the devout Christian guy caught in the
floodwaters. The storm has just begun and a truck rolls by and the
trucker offers a ride to safety. The guy declines and says: “I’m not
going to worry; God will provide.” A few hours later, the floodwaters
rise to the first floor of his two story house. He sees a boat go by.
The boaters offer a ride to safety. The guy declines and says: “I’m not
going to worry; God will provide.” Now it’s midnight and the flood is
torrential. The guy needs to climb up onto the roof. A helicopter comes
by and offers a ride to safety. The guy declines and says: “I’m not
going to worry; God will provide.” Finally the house collapses and the
guy drowns. He comes upon the Pearly Gates and St. Peter asks him what
happened. The guy relates the story and says “You know, I always
believed God would provide, but here I am.” St. Peter replies: “Who do
you think sent the truck, the boat and the helicopter?”
3) You overreached. McKibben’s argument is sprung from a non sequitur: A famous remark of Benjamin Franklin’s does not appear in the Bible verbatim,
therefore God does not preach the necessity and virtue of labor? The Bible
abounds with warnings against idleness and sloth.
“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would
not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk
among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that
are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness
they work, and eat their own bread.”
McKibben ought to look that and a dozen others up in his Funk & Wagnalls; or
in this case, King James.
4) On Benjamin Franklin and the Harper’s column: the purpose of that sentiment is that we have to take responsibility for making things happen–not sit around and expect God to do it all for us. To do God’s work is to gain his favor, but you have to get up off the couch and do it.
And the Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?” And I replied, “Here am I, send me.” –Isaiah 6:8
Notice “I” didn’t say, “Lord, I don’t know. Please pick someone and send that person my way, I have a lot to do.”
5) I would have to agree that the Franklin quote is not counter-biblical. The idea behind it is that individuals need to take some initiative. There are a variety of verses and stories thatwould support this, I think.
One that comes to mind is, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10 – full disclosure – I had to look up the chapter and verse) This verse emphasizes the responsibility of people to participate in the community in a productive way, which runs counter to many of the instincts of welfare staters. (I’m specifically reminded of a list the actor Ed Asner once compiled for an edition of the Book of Lists, on what he would do if president. At or near the top was to verify the rights of people not to have to work.)
The story of Gideon in Judges is instructive too. He was a man called by god to free Isreal from oppression, but as is the case with many Biblical heroes, God required him to act first, an act of faith (in this case to actually raise an army) and Gideon is still depicted as quite uncertain (he lays down a fleece twice at night to verify God’s will, etc.)
Christ told the rich young man what he needed to do, and characterized in terms of the individual response. He did of course lay down a pretty good reason to accept taxation, at least so long as former presidents and cabinet officials appear on our money, but he mostly focuses on the individual response rather than the communal.