Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Probably in Proverbs

I'm about to complain. You've been warned. It's not really a rant since there's actual research that's gone in to this. Due to my limited knowledge of the English language, I'm not sure what to call it. I don't know the word for rambling complaint about something that's actually been researched, but that's what this is. That's right, I actually emailed people with knowledge to ask their opinions. All that said, if you have any expectations of anything resembling good writing, you need to stop reading now. What follows can only disappoint you and I don't want that hanging on my head. 

Like many of you, I  hang out on Facebook. That may be overstating it. I have Facebook up at work, though their recent algorithm changes makes the service practically unusable. Seeing people's posts on Sunday afternoon about a touchdown for their college team Saturday night is confusing at best and irrelevant at worst. Do that enough times and it makes reading facebook useless (which is why I interact more with people on Twitter, where they haven't screwed with their timeline, yet.) But that's not where we're going here.

No, on Facebook, I have friends of all religious persuasions including none at all. Now what you choose to believe or not believe is an intensely personal choice and as long as you're working out your own beliefs and not imposing them on others, we're good. I'm not one of those people who can claim absolute knowledge about faith, spirituality and religion. I've got too many questions, some answerable, some unanswerable, to be able to make definitive statements about religious matters. I've been able to admit to myself that I don't know and I may never know. I'm fine with that.

Others have no such qualms. In a way, I admire them. To have such an unwavering belief in something seems reassuring, but I'm not in that position. And here's where we get to what bothers me. It seems to me that those most sure of spiritual matters (though by no means only those) end up posting sayings that aren't biblical at all. They sound like they could be from the bible, and I imagine the people posting them believe they may be. In fact, I can see them saying to themselves "I don't know where in the bible it says this, probably in Proverbs somewhere." This list is by no means complete, nor is it meant to imply the people who say these things aren't well meaning (they usually are) or are any more or less spiritual. It's mostly to say that when you see these sayings, know they're not what they often seem to be.

"God helps those who help themselves" This may be true, though it's also likely that God helps those who can't or won't help themselves. This is a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin. While many have elevated Franklin and other founding fathers of the United States to near-diety status, he was just a guy, a really smart guy, but just a guy.

But let's take a look at the implications of what's behind this saying. It's basically saying the only way God's going to help you is if you're willing to help yourself. But if you can help yourself, why would you need God's help? And if God only helps those who help themselves, which is implied, then what kind of God is that? A God that doesn't help people who can't help themselves isn't a God I'd want to believe in, let alone one I'd want to follow.  

Spare the rod, spoil the child - close, though it's a misquote of a verse actually in Proverbs. In Proverbs 13:24 it says "Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them." Personally, I'm always in favor of sparing the rod because I don't believe using physical force with someone who behaves in a way that you don't want him or her to is wrong, regardless of age, but I understand that some of you may choose not to spare the rod. That said, I'm pretty sure I don't hate my child for failing to physically assault him because he doesn't listen like I wish he would. The fact that the words "punish" and "discipline" have come to be used interchangeably, especially in respect to raising children, is a detriment to both. You can discipline without punishing, and you can punish without disciplining. 

But we're getting sidetracked here. Spare the rod, spoil the child is actually from Samuel Butler in his satirical poem Hudibras, which, as we all know, is about the factions of the English Civil War and written in 1662. I don't even know why I'm telling you this because you're all educated, cultured people of the world who are wondering if I just had to Google that information. Well, the answer is yes. Yes I did. I also learned that while Butler is credited with the phrase "spare the rod, spoil the child," the notion goes back even further to 1377 in William Langland's The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman. The phrase does not, however, seem to go back further to biblical times, though it's possible it does. Even if it does predate Langland, to, let's say ancient Greece, it's still not scriptural and anyone saying otherwise is mistaken.

"God Doesn't give you more than you can handle" What does this mean, exactly? I honestly don't know what is trying to be said here. As best as I can tell, it's said to people when they're going through a particularly difficult time in life as a way to encourage them to persevere. That's good as we all need encouragement. What's bad is somehow either blaming God for giving you this hard time or saying if you can't handle it that it's a failing of yours and not overwhelming circumstances.

It seems like it goes hand-in-hand with misinterpreting Romans 8:28 ("And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."). I don't care how many different ways you try to spin it, when someone gets cancer or a child dies, that's not good. Even if we ignore the person who has the tragedy happen to them and focus only on that tragedy's impact on you, how willing do we want to be to worship a God who brings tragedy to your loved one because it'll be better for you in the long run? I've got a 6-year old son. If, God forbid, something tragic were to happen to him, the thought that God is using that tragedy for good for me is absurd. That also ignores the fact that my son had something tragic happen to him that, supposedly, is working for his good. That's not something I'm comfortable with.

"The Lord works in mysterious ways." While this very well may be true, it's not found anywhere in the Bible. The exact source of this quote is unclear, though it's been attributed to a hymn from the 1800s written by William Cowper. You know William Cowper, he's famous for writing hymns in the 1800s. Anyway, he's often credited with the phrase at it came from the line "God moves in a mysterious ways; His wonders to perform; He plans His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm."

Now as I said, it's very possible the Lord does work in mysterious ways. Perhaps God was inspired by U2's "Mysterious Ways" and started acting that way in response to Bono and company's song. Maybe it was initially in the Proverbs somewhere but got taken out before it was released. If we could only find the director's cut, we'd know for sure. But since we'll have to go with what was actually released, The Lord working in mysterious ways is not in the book.

"Seven Deadly Sins" Proverbs does have a place where the author lists seven sins that are an abomination to God, but nowhere does it imply they are deadly. We could combine the sins listed in Proverbs 6:16-19 with the verse in Romans that says the wages of sin in death, but the Romans verse doesn't imply any particular sin is worse or more "deadly" than any other sin.

Sure, we got a great movie (Seven) out of the whole idea of the seven deadly sins originated in the early church and was initially eight deadly sins. About 200 years after the initial list was written Pope Gregory I combined some of the eight, added envy, and left us with the seven we have today.

Again, this isn't a complete list as there are many more sayings that people mistakenly believe are probably in Proverbs. I want to reiterate that people who mistakenly attribute these sayings to the Bible are most likely not doing so out of an effort to deceive or pull one over on you. I would guess most of them believe they're scriptural and they're trying to impart some wisdom or comfort to the person they're speaking to.

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