catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 22 :: 2009.11.13 — 2009.11.26


God helps

Editor’s note: This image and essay are part of the 99 Name Peace Project, whose mission is to embrace the integration of art and spirituality, and to share sacred creations with people of many faiths around the world.

All of my experiences with the Ninety-Nine Names of God are unique. However, typically when a Name chooses me, the propensity to paint is immediate, and I do my best to advance to the paper as soon as feasible, usually within the day. Al-Hadi, The Guide, or the characteristic “guidance,” was different. From the moment I felt called to paint Guidance to the point I actually painted the creative piece exceeded two months. During that period as I moved through my daily living, I sat with Al-Hadi, allowing questions and insights about Guidance to surface.

One theme that arose centered on the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” I was taught at a very young age that this was “biblical,” that God would only respond to me if I was completely self-sufficient and essentially needed nothing. I had to be self-sufficient in the care of myself, care of anyone else’s needs, care of any situation that was not as expected. I learned how to fix nearly any situation, solve any problem, and soon, how to predict and shape the future to avoid anything that might appear wrong-or so I thought. I also had to be self-sufficient in love, loss, fear, sadness, joy…any emotion, whether felt as positive or negative. Even as a small child, I felt it was up to me, that God was nowhere to be found if I could not take care of all of my needs, desires and fears. And, if I slipped and found myself in need, God would immediately abandon me as unworthy of His attention or assistance.

As an adult, I can see the inherent contradiction in all of this-God only responding when I don’t need Him?  I’m guessing my Catholic parents were using “God helps those who help themselves” as a motivational tool to persuade me to complete my chores or to respond to their needs. However, this phrase has haunted me my entire life. Until the last few years, it shaped my view of God as fickle, unresponsive, manipulative, disinterested, spiteful. If I was not at 100%, accepting complete responsibility and committing my all, I presumed I was forsaken to flounder until I could pull myself back together. If I was ill, or hurt beyond what I could manage, God discarded me until I was well again.

God’s ability (in my outlook) to connect or disconnect with me at will, depending on my efforts, is of course, directly opposed to the notion of Grace. In addition, “God helps those who help themselves” is not scripturally based, but rather:

The saying, “God helps those who help themselves,” came to us by way of Benjamin Franklin (1736). Franklin himself was a deist and so he believed that God did not play an active role in men’s lives. In his point of view if man was not able to help himself, then man was hopeless. The Bible teaches something entirely different than the above saying, because God makes special provision to help the helpless.

There are numerous passages in the Bible that illustrate God helping those in need, particularly the poor and helpless. Often, the perceived godliness of a city or town directly depended on the degree to which they cared for those in need. Jesus responds time and again to those asking for help and warns those who think they can go it alone.

Many books have been written about God’s Grace. The common theme is that God’s love, guidance and help are specifically not based on our own efforts. These gifts from God are unconditional. Period. God is persistent, patient and incessantly invitational. His unremitting love is offered to us in an endless stream of grace. We are the ones who separate ourselves from God, sometimes by misunderstanding who God is, based on what we have been taught.

God guides us to all that is good, for the benefit and satisfaction of our needs. The Qur’an, Surah Ta Ha v. 50, states, “Our Lord is He who gives to each thing its nature then guides it (to knowledge to satisfy its needs).”

This uninterrupted Guidance flows from God to us. Our response requires faith, especially when we are confused, suffering or feel lead astray. Rather than stepping outside of yourself and expending tremendous effort to predict or control your future, I invite you to go inward, be silent and listen to how God is guiding you. The guidance is at hand. Can you hear it? For me, it is a necessity to participate in this practice every day. My faith strengthens my ability to hear God’s guidance, and following God’s guidance strengthens my faith.  How is it for you?

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