The God of Self-Help

If you’ve been in church, or been around churchy people, you’ve heard people talk about God. Mostly he sounds like a philanthropic celebrity, but kind of religiousy. The hazy God-descriptions based on scriptural references don’t help.

“He’s the God of the oppressed.”
“He’s the Father to the fatherless.”
“He’s a friend to those in need.”
“He is a refuge for those who seek him.”

While these might be true, why the archaic language to describe someone who is supposed to be “closer than a brother”? These antiquities of speech only widen the gap between confused little me and a God who already feels far away.

I grew up in church, and for those of us who did, at some point we decided if we wanted to interact with God or not. If he was really there and worth our time. The general malaise present in many North American churches serves only to sedate and even quench the passion for the divine with which children are born.

Eventually, if you stay in the shades-of-slate suburbia long enough, you’ll be introduced to The God of Self-Help. This God wants you to “be good”. With only rare head nods to a nicely tanned, smiling Jesus, DIY spirituality is the flavor of the millennium. The mantra: “I can do it myself, with a little help from Jesus.”

Needing help is reserved for only special occasions, like praying for orphans in Africa or the parent with a rare form of cancer. People who really need it. Otherwise, we rarely have to bother God. After all, he hath bestowed on us Deepak Chopra and Oprah and Dr. Oz. What more do we need? A full life awaits us.

I’m a Christian, and I follow Jesus. Self-help affirmations and feel-good quotations give me the willies, but if I’m honest, I will usually pick The God of Self-Help over Real Jesus. Why? Four main reasons:

1. I can do it on my own.
2. I should do it on my own.
3. I owe Jesus to get my crap together after all he’s done for me.
4. I don’t want to bother with all this relationship stuff. It’s too unpredictable.

Self-help offers the thing we all want so desperately: a formula for success with little mess. How do I get to heaven? How can I make the boss like me? How can I have one more baby? How can I get the things I’ve been wanting, tangible or intangible?

I want to achieve. I want to check boxes. I want to feel good. I want to make a difference because I want my name on something. I want people to be impressed with me. And I don’t want anyone questioning my motives or giving me a hard time. Get out of my way. I am trying to get rich and famous, or at least be decently oblivious and happy over here.

And it sure seems like Real Jesus wants to come in and mess it all up.

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It’s easier to dismiss the King James deities, all unrelatable and distant. The Self-Help God offers me a solution to my surface desires, which distracts me with niceties and a busy spiritual life.

Then along comes this Jesus guy, God with flesh on, messing everything up. Touching lepers, playing with kids, drinking wine, sitting in dirt. And dying.

Suddenly it becomes quite clear that Self-Help God is holding out on me. Because why would this other God go to all this trouble to redeem a bunch fully qualified humans? Why the bloody death if we can just read a handbook to pass? Overkill much?

Or perhaps self-help is not enough. Perhaps I am a giant, flailing mess and not even the people around me can toss the tube over cause they’re too busy drowning in it too.

Indeed, self-help is help yourself. Every man and woman for him or herself. There are no extra resources. I need all the points I can get. It’s “I can’t save you so you better work and try to save yourself.”

I’m sorry I’ve been dialing the God of Self-Help while keeping the Real Jesus at arm’s length, suspiciously eyeing him and fearing for what he will ask of me.

I still want to fix myself. I think I need to try harder. But Jesus’ crazy life says I’m desperate, and if I slow down long enough to look around, I can see that I am. I need way more than self-help. I need a rope deep enough to reach into hell and pluck me from the flames seconds from the burn.

God, I’m sorry I drank the Kool-Aid thinking you were gonna help me be a nice person, that you were peddling best-sellers on formulas for a better life. You couldn’t care less about my manicured lawn and nails if my heart is rotting out. You look past skin and landscaping to see the whitewashed tomb inside.

It’s ugly. I need a makeover. This is no DIY project. It’s major surgery. There is nothing worth saving here. I need a life-transplant.

Real Jesus, I’m done with The God of Self-Help. I am really sorry I’ve been one of those friends who only calls when she needs something. And I’m sorry I’ve been a liar, liar, pants on fire about my relationship with you. I’m a novice. A born-yesterday beginner. But I’m aware now.

Help.

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4 thoughts on “The God of Self-Help

  1. I am so with you Sarah- Nearly all of my life I’ve been believing that Jesus was here to help me be good, only to very recently figure that doesn’t give a rip how good I am. The hubs recently mentioned that our American ideas of self-reliance have only encouraged our views that We can do it and God can help.
    So amen, friend- Amen.

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    1. Thanks Lori. I agree that the self-reliance is exactly the problem. And it’s not just Americans. I’m realizing it is at the root of every major world religion. We all believe good works will save us. It’s the eternal deception.

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  2. Really liked this, Sarah. Especially the four reasons. And so well written. I think the self help God has many shades and nuances, too. I’ve seen it in suburbia, for sure! But I’ve also seen it disguised as hipster/missional/cool/urban. Be a better person by denying yourself and feeling superior than “those people” who “don’t get it.” Anyway, GREAT post.

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    1. Thank you, Steve. I agree. There are so many clever ways to disguise the self-help model. I think we all buy it as Gospel because saving ourselves is at the core of our broken state. Thank you for reading.

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