The “This Too Shall Pass 'Bible Verse'" & Other Non-Bible-Verses
Four Common Sayings Mistaken for Bible Verses
I'll briefly mention three common sayings mistaken for Bible verses, starting with the “this too shall pass 'Bible verse'". I'll then reveal a fourth saying often mistaken for a Bible verse. I'll have a bunch of philosophical things to say about that fourth one, but I saved that part for last on purpose, so you can completely ignore it if you aren't feeling very philosophical!
This Too Shall Pass “Bible Verse”
I was quite surprised when I found out via keyword research that many, many people apparently think that the saying, “this too shall pass”, is a Bible verse. It certainly does not come from the Bible. According to no less a source than Wikipedia (See: This too shall pass), it seems to come down from the Sufis: Muslim mystics. It is understandable that people would think that this saying is in the Bible, though, as it certainly does express a great deal of wisdom. It reminds me of the great insights of Heraclitus, who said that “all is flux”. It is also reminiscent of the Buddha, who taught the wonderful concept of anicca (impermanence). The wisdom is this: whatever your present situation may be, whether wonderful or horrible, it certainly won't last. So if you're on top of the world, don't get overly excited about it, or you'll set yourself up for disappointment. And if you're in the pits, don't quit hoping, since things might always get better.
Boring required disclaimer about the sources referenced in prior section:
I remember reading somewhere once that Wikipedia has been shown statistically to be about as accurate as World Book or Britannica. I can't remember exactly where I read that, but I'm thinking it must be true. And I actually did not make up that whole bit just for nerd humor. Not the first part anyways.
Cleanliness is Next to Godliness "Bible Verse"
The best information I've found (See: What is the origin of the phrase "cleanliness is next to godliness"?) traces this saying to the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, who wrote in 1791:
"But, before we enter on the subject, let it be observed, that slovenliness is no part of religion; that neither this nor any text of Scripture, condemns neatness of apparel. Certainly, this is a duty, not a sin. 'Cleanliness is, indeed, next to godliness.'"
I find it ironic that John Wesley begins by stating that no Bible verse condemns cleanliness. Now over 225 years later, thanks to him, troves of people believe in a Bible verse that promotes cleanliness to the level of godliness. But there is no bible verse even remotely similar to this phrase.
Several meta-analyses of a vast body of relevant scientific literature have shown a pronounced failure to demonstrate any statistically significant correlation between cleanliness and godliness. In other words, the null hypothesis that cleanliness is not next to godliness couldn't be definitively (or otherwise) rejected. And yes, I did just make all that up for terrible nerd "humor".
Money is the Root of All Evil "Bible Verse"
This quote, unlike the others in this article, is a misquotation of an actual bible verse. 1 Timothy 6:10 reads, “For the love of money is a root of all evils.” There is a great deal of difference between money itself causing evil, and the love of money causing evil. The first formulation makes the Bible’s ethics sound absurdly simplistic. Money, being an inert thing, can not cause evil any more than rocks can cause evil. The real culprit, as the actual Bible verse makes clear, is the excessive desire for wealth.
According to many, a better translation of this verse would actually read, "The love of money is behind all sorts of evil/mischief/trouble/misery", or something similar. If that kind of translation is actually more accurate, then even an unbalanced craving for money is not a cause of “all evil”, but of “all sorts/kinds of evil”. This makes more sense as well. There are kinds of evil that are clearly not caused by greed. Some kinds of evil are caused by sadistic cruelty, for example. But there are also all kinds of evil that are caused by greed.
Dominicus Smout - The Miser and Death
Before reading this article, which one of these were you MOST likely (pick only one) to think was a real Bible verse?
God Helps Those Who Help Themselves "Bible Verse"
This saying came from Algernon Sydney, and was later used by Benjamin Franklin. It is not in the Bible. According to the Bible, God helps all living beings, regardless of anything they may or may not have done to help themselves.
For example, in Matthew 5:43-45 (NIV) Jesus declares:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."
Here's my take on this (Warning, philosophy/theology ahead!)
I'll begin with two statements.
God is Love.
God is also Being/Existence Itself.
The second statement may be difficult for some people, but I think the Bible supports it. In Exodus 3:14 (KJV) for example, God tells Moses that His name is “I Am That I Am”. One possible interpretation of that is “I Am [the fact that] I Am”.
Does empirical observation conflict with reason?
I plan to start off on this winding road of philosophy stuff in the most non-philosophical language I can muster, so most people can enjoy the read, to begin with. That said, the following brief paragraph is an exception. I'm writing it for the benefit of philosophically minded folk, although such folk could undoubtedly shred it to bits, logically speaking. Note: an exception this early on does mean that this "winding road of philosophy stuff" will ultimately devolve into a "convoluting via negativa of apophaticisms", so be warned.
Empirically we observe that things do exist. But reasoning processes alone would lead us to conclude that nothing should have ever existed. In pure philosophy-speak, I'm suggesting that our two most cherished epistemological sources don't mesh well when it comes to a most fundamental ontological issue.
Ok, with that out of the way, let's continue.
Our reason (logic) and scientific method depend on the "fact" that there is a cause, or reason, for everything. A "How". Even our simple conscious thought processes (cognitions) are structured around that seemingly established idea. We learn it as infants. For example: hot stove burner causes pain in hand. How did my hand hurt? The stove.
But how could there be a cause for Being/Existence itself? If there was ever truly Nothing, including no God, then there was nothing around that could have caused there to be Something. So there must have always been Something, right? Well, if there has always been Something (aka God, by my earlier definition), what causes It/Him/Her to exist? That is, "how" does anything (including God) exist? And that is where our systems of logic shatter altogether, putting the question outside the scope of human rationality/thought, and by extension, outside the scope of the scientific method. And that happens when we just ask "how". The question of "why" is even more mind-blowing, since it requires examination by "meaning-perceiving" or "meaning-making" consciousnesses, such as humans. And that is outside the scope of this article.
With the limited human minds we must work with, we might reasonably conclude that Being/God simply exists, with no cause ("I Am [the fact that] I Am"). I'm going to agree with that statement, and go from there. If that's true, then we have no good reason to think that anything that is a part of Being/Existence actually requires a cause or a "how" either. Perhaps our minds just generate the illusion of "cause" whenever we repeatedly observe a certain thing following after another thing. A pool stick strikes a billiard ball. The ball moves. So we think that the impact causes the ball to move. But really, we can't prove that absolutely. All we can do is use different tools to observe, again and again, the movement of the ball happening after contact with the stick. And then we can create stories and pictures (scientific narratives and models) about what those repeated observations ought to mean for us.
Philosophers, please forgive me for here omitting a volume on maps vs territories and phenomena vs noumena etc. Scientists, please forgive me for everything.
But if Existence itself has no cause, and the movement of a billiard ball takes place within Existence, why must the ball movement have a cause? In other words:
“Pool stick”, “billiard ball”, “contact between stick and ball”, and “ball movement” are all part of “Existence/Being”.
Existence/Being has no cause.
Therefore, “ball movement” has no cause.
God is Love, and Love Gives
But let's go back to my first statement, "God is Love" (1 John 4:8 & 16). Here I'll turn away from my reasonings to give a personal perception of “meaning”. I can do that since I am a “meaning-perceiving” being. I think that one essential part of Love is to give generously and unconditionally. I think Jesus is pointing to that in Matthew 5 (above), where he says that without condition, God generously provides sunlight and rain to everyone alike.
Now, Jesus was speaking to agricultural people who were familiar with crops and farming. They knew what sunlight and rain really meant. Our scientific models of today also describe what sunlight and rain mean. Sunlight + Water + Oxygen = plant growth. That is where all food comes from. Or at least we perceive food to come from those things. But think back to our pool stick and billiard ball.
What if Jesus was saying, on a deeper level, that Being/Existence Itself (aka God) alone gives all beings their sustenance? If God/Existence has no cause, then rain and sunlight have no cause, and so food has no cause besides the fact that it is a part of God/Being/Existence Itself. Which means that, despite the stark realities of deprivation and starvation on earth, Being/Existence is constantly casting out an unlimited, infinite supply of food. That would be a generous, unconditional giving. The kind of giving that I believe is a part of Love. Perhaps food literally, like everything else, just bursts on the scene continually without any cause, offering Itself up to beings who consume it. That would definitely add layers of meaning to statements from Jesus like "I am the bread of life [. . .] Unless you eat [my] flesh and drink [my] blood, you have no life, for [. . .] my flesh truly is food, and my blood truly is drink" (John 6:41-55).
In fact, I know that many of the earliest Christians interpreted such sayings in entirely panentheistic terms. The traditions of these gnostic Christians were almost entirely stamped out by a bloodthirsty Christianized Roman Empire, but their ideas are making a resurgence today.
I've heard it said somewhere that Christ's miracles were all reenactments, in a scaled-down and time-lapsed way, of God's acts in the universe. So when, for example, Jesus multiplied a few fish and loaves into a feast for a massive crowd, he was reenacting the great act of cosmic fertility that supplies all beings with life and sustenance. As John chapters ten and fourteen have him repeatedly expressing, if anyone sees (understands) him, they can see (understand) his Father (Love/Being), because he only does the things that his Father does.
- World Hunger, Poverty Facts, Statistics 2016 - Worldhunger.org
The facts & stats on world hunger, undernourishment, malnutrition & poverty are sad. There's enough food on Earth to feed everyone. WHES teaches how to help
Avarice and Strife, Indifference and Privation
So if the Father/Being is a boundless, universal giving of Itself (Love), then why are people starving? Worldhunger.org agrees that there is plenty of food for all of us, and points out that people go hungry largely due to war and an unequal distribution of resources (see the link to the right). In fact, if you look into it, you will find out that war and greed are the only real reasons that there are any hungry people on earth. Mass starvation today occurs almost exclusively where war has cut off people's access to resources. Greed is responsible for the rest of world hunger, as a few individuals cling to more resources than they and their descendants could ever possibly need in a thousand lifetimes. This is not a polemic against the wealthy. Rather I would encourage those with wealth, reminding them of the wonderful position they are in to do good in the world.
The Turning of a Paradigm
In short, God (Existence/Being) is Love, which is in one crucial sense a tireless and unconditional expenditure of Itself into All. The lack of love among humans is, in a crucial sense, the only reason any humans are hungry. This fact in no way mitigates, nor is it meant to mitigate, the gravity of suffering, either as a phenomenological (hence ontological) fact, or as a "theodical problem". It does not philosophically remove culpability from God, nor ease the visceral sting that reeks of divine abandonment. All the infinite universes could encode nothing but endless tomes about suffering, as suffering may be the true crux (wordplay very intended) of very Being and Nonbeing. So much for not sounding too philosophical.
But setting the problem of suffering aside for other articles, please consider the human race's response to suffering: profound distrust, anxiety, and even terror towards Being/Existence Itself. This has resulted in an almost perfect alienation of ourselves from Existence, from the planet and ecosystem, from other species, from other tribes, and from other individual people. Indeed, it has alienated us from ourselves and from our selves and from our Self.
These facts make Matthew 5 all the more impressive. There, Jesus is telling us to love even our enemies. This defies animal and human instinct, along with social convention. Pro-social behavior among animals (including humans) is thought to result from the parent/child bond and the principle of reciprocity. In short, evolution favors groups of individuals who learn to mutually give to one another. But evolution also drives such groups to engage in conflict with any other groups who would take from them. Groups survive when individuals band together to mutually strengthen one another, while defending against “outsiders” who would weaken or take from them.
In Matthew 5, Jesus overturns human social norms, human/animal instinct, and the course of evolution itself. His instructions here only make sense if it actually is true that we may unconditionally trust in an infinite Providence to sustain our own needs, freeing us, in turn, to unconditionally share with others.
From that perspective, the idea that God only helps those who help themselves is not only unbiblical, but it represents the most pernicious and commonly accepted current of sentiment in the collective cultural wisdom that we've amassed over countless generations. It is a sentiment that justifies greed and war. It is a sentiment that chokes Love at the root, and leaves us violently consuming one another in a vicious circle, which has been the spiral of our history.
© 2011 Justin Aptaker