The title of Adam Hamilton’s new book Half Truths seems appropriate in this fake news era. Hamilton explores these infamous half truths:
“Everything happens for a reason,”
“God helps those who help themselves,”
“God won’t give you more than you can handle,”
“God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” and
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
The Adult II Sunday School class at Second Baptist Church is currently reading and discussing this book.
To say “Everything happens for a reason” implies that God is the reason. Since God is responsible for creating the universe, there may be some ill-defined truth to this statement. However, the idea that God is responsible for natural disasters and mass murders seems absurd and incompatible with a loving God. Hamilton charts a middle course between two views of God: the hyper- Calvinistic view of a micromanaging God who is sovereign and controls all events, and the deistic view of a hands-off, absentee God who started the world and then abandoned it. He argues convincingly that God can bring good out of evil but does not cause the evil. While God’s work in the world is usually done by people, there are the occasional inexplicable events that reveal God’s invisible hand. One quote circulating on Facebook summarizes man’s contribution to the conundrum: “Everything happens for a reason, but sometimes the reason is that you are stupid and make bad decisions.” Left unsaid is the highly debatable “God has a plan for your life.” While it is appealing to believe that God picked out your spouse and your career, there is surprisingly little Biblical evidence for this.
“God helps those who help themselves” was popularized in Poor Richard’s Almanac. However, the phrase receives only vague Biblical support in Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians to work so that they can eat. Prayer alone is often insufficient when not combined with work, as any college student or job hunter will attest. However, God expects us to help the poor, and God extends His grace to help those who cannot help themselves and are simply unable to rise above their despair.
“God won’t give you more than you can handle” makes a great case for not becoming a stronger Christian. This bromide is based loosely on I Corinthians 10:13 which says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” The emphasis is on sin, not life’s disasters. Also God doesn’t “give” us the adversity in our lives. However, He will help us handle what comes our way.
You have not read Leviticus if you believe “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” The Year of Living Biblically is a delightful book written by A. J. Jacobs and now the inspiration for the CBS TV series Living Biblically. Hamilton argues that everyone including Jesus interprets scripture and does not accept every word at face value. Otherwise, according to the New Testament, all women attending church must wear hats, daughters must not braid their hair, and no one can have a savings account. Slavery would still exist. We must interpret scripture through the lens of Jesus, and we must reinterpret scripture that contradicts the portrayal of Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus himself reinterpreted Levitical law when he refused to stone the adulterous woman (Leviticus 20:10 and John 8:3-11).
The statement “Love the sinner and hate the sin” may have originated with St. Augustine who gave advice to nuns that included “love mankind and hate sins.” This attitude, however, can bring harm to the sinner. Jesus told us to love our neighbor and to love our enemies. It is self-righteous and judgmental to look upon those around you as sinners and not neighbors. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ reminds us to examine our own sins, not those of others. The late Billy Graham said, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict; it is God’s job to judge, and it is our job to love.” The “Love the sinner and hate the sin” is probably applied most often to gay individuals and has contributed to the isolation of that community.
The egregious half truths above can lead to a rejection of the Gospel or to a world-view that is sub-Christian. Expressed in the wrong setting, they can be hurtful to others. We need to gently challenge half truths when we hear them especially from other Christians.