Ever heard this one?: “Hey, boy, you gotta lift yourself up by your own bootstraps!”
Here’s another one: “God helps them that helps themselves.”
Get going there, kid! The world is your oyster. But you gotta tame it, you gotta grab it, you gotta go for the gusto! Now go out there and show ‘em! Come on now, make me proud: Show the world you’re a winner!
That’s “bootstrap pride,” the legend of the self-made man.
There are two popular theories which engender enormous amounts of “bootstrap pride” in human beings: From physics, the “big bang theory,” from biology, the “theory of evolution.”
The words “big bang theory” cause us to envision an explosive progression from unspeakable heat, energy, violence, and chaos to the incredible achievements of man; skyscrapers, the 747, penicillin, the space shuttle.
“The theory of evolution” conjures up images of a march from absolute disorganization and degradation, to the ”primordial slime,” to ape prototypes, on up to human innovations like brain surgery, the music of Beethoven, the iphone.
What do those two scenarios have in common? BOOTSTRAP PRIDE!!! “Look at me!” “Look at what I did!” “I can do anything!” “I came from a monkey, from a paramecium, from the primordial soup! Now I’m a member of Mensa!” “Ain’t I special?” “Ain’t I great?” “I’m hot stuff, and I’m proud!”
According to these theories, we started from a universe of absolute chaos, gradually advanced to a species of brute savages grunting unintelligibly in a cave, and from there to building the World Trade Center, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China. “Wow, I love that story, ‘cuz it’s all about me, me, me, how great I am!”
The Book of Genesis tells a very different story. God designed a glorious environment, beautifully elegant, perfectly suited to nurture and sustain us. “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31) “Then God said, ‘Let Us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’.” (Genesis 1:26) God created us with spectacular intellect, physical stamina, and a moral compass. He gave us an “instruction manual” on how to be healthy, happy, and wonderfully fulfilled. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die’.” (Genesis 2:15-17)
God created us with free will, the capacity to choose whether we accept or reject His love. He did not manufacture a race of robots. We each have the option of receiving and embracing Jesus’ salvation. It’s our choice. We are not compelled to accept God’s free gift of salvation. We can flee like Jonah (Jonah 1:3), or we can run into Jesus’ waiting arms. He invites each of us with these words: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with Me.” (Revelation 3:20) If we decide to open the door of our heart and invite Jesus in, the Holy Spirit starts to sanctify us, and we begin to “bear much fruit, fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)
…So, what did Adam and Eve do in the Garden of Eden? They rebelled. “ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” “(Genesis 3:6) And what do most of us do today? Mostly we rebel. We put sugar in our gas tanks, and our engines self-destruct. We run away from God’s presence and try to crown ourselves “god.”
Here’s a question: Where exactly does “God helps them that helps themselves” appear in The Bible? (Hint: You won’t find it. Nope, it ain’t there. Nowhere in the entire Bible.)
Here’s something that is in The Bible: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling [which makes it sound as if salvation was wholly contingent on what we do], for it is God who works in you to will and to act, in order to fulfill his good purpose [which makes it clear that God is the author of our salvation]. (Philippians 2:12,13)
Salvation is a gift which is freely offered by God to every human being on the face of the earth, because of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. But this free gift must be received and embraced by each of us in order to take effect in our lives.
There’s no room for “bootstrap pride” in that scenario. Instead, the narrative of The Bible leads us to our knees, to humble repentance, to the foot of Jesus’ cross, where we find salvation by submitting to His Perfect Will, and where we experience His perfect peace, joy, and love.