Observations: No good deed…

Published on: January 12, 2012

It sometimes feels like my whole life is a circus. Mitch Traphagen Photo

It sometimes feels like my whole life is a circus. Mitch Traphagen Photo


I would not normally expect to be thrown into a fit of pondering by someone with the nickname “The Booth Babe”. But then again, The Booth Babe, while probably quite attractive, is no normal booth babe (assuming there is such a thing). She is an extremely witty and smart woman who is a car show model and runs a popular, anonymous blog entitled, “Do You Come With The Car?”, a question she is no doubt slyly asked by men my age and older, all thinking it an original approach to a beautiful woman. Regardless, The Booth Babe did set me thinking when she tweeted:

@DYCWTC The Booth Babe
If God doesn’t give a about children starving and being raped, I’m pretty sure he really doesn’t give a about football.

I’m reasonably sure that tweet was in response to the weird attention given to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow being a Christian. My first response was that I highly doubt that God does much care about football. My second response was, who does care enough to get involved in what should be a non-controversy and why is a quarterback’s religion even fodder for discussion?  My third response was, embarrassingly enough, “why are children starving and being raped?”

For the entirety of my life, I’ve tended towards an optimistic view on things. I’ve long thought that people, deep down inside at least, are generally good. I’ve always believed that doing good things for others has rewards, perhaps not materially but for my own heart and soul. But last week, I started to wonder if indeed no good deed goes unpunished.

Both my wife Michelle and I are among those people who tend to roll down their windows and slip a dollar or two into the hands of panhandlers. I try not to judge or assume I know the circumstances that lead to panhandling, I just assume that if they are so far down the ladder of life they need to ask for a handout, then I’ll provide it — at least in small increments. In other words, if they are desperate enough to ask, who am I to judge them?  After all, there but for the grace of God go I. A phrase which, by the way, was uttered 500 years ago by John Bradford as he watched an inmate being led to the gallows while Bradford was imprisoned for being a Protestant.

Two months ago, my wife Michelle and I tried to help two young people. While some good did come from it, the result was disastrous. Our “help” quickly became a handout that was only making the situation worse. By helping, we were not making it easy for our guests to help themselves. We were making it possible for them to be slugs when the reality was they needed to be working their tails off to prepare for some serious responsibility that was rapidly closing in on them.

On their last full day as guests in our home, they did something irresponsible. It was seemingly minor, but it ended up as something with the potential to endanger our neighbors and completely devastate our lives. Until that day, I had no idea how fragile our existence really is. I don’t care how comfortable you feel or how wealthy you are,  security is an illusion and it really doesn’t take much to destabilize everything in your life.

In the end, we clearly weren’t doing our guests any favors and we did not have any right to impinge upon our neighbors. As things tumbled down into a seemingly serious mess last week, I was left to wonder, does any good deed go unpunished?

I don’t believe God helped the Denver Broncos win a football game because I’m reasonably certain there were people in Pittsburgh equally as devout as Tebow (including Steelers safety Troy Polamalu) and some may well have been praying for their team to win (OK, that Tebow passed for exactly 316 yards (John 3:16, Tebow’s favorite Bible verse) may show that God has a sense of humor).

I also don’t believe that God “allows” children to starve and be raped. People let it happen; they make it happen. And then, there are people who try to stop it or change it. If God is helping anyone, He is helping those who try to stop or change it.

Just as our guests should not have expected a handout from us, I don’t think we should expect a handout from God. If we really want to stop children from starving and being raped, there are the means on this earth to make it stop. We just have to decide to do it and appreciate that it won’t necessarily be easy.

Over the past two months, I have gained some cynicism and it was probably needed. I’ll still roll down my window to stuff a dollar or two into someone’s hand — just not so frequently. I have no right to judge, but that doesn’t mean I have no right to decide what looks to be the better cause for my dollars. I now know that sometimes the best way to help people is to help them help themselves. Sometimes. Not always.

In the end, God didn’t save John Bradford. On July 1, 1555, he was burned at the stake. Most importantly, he didn’t expect God to save him. Instead he asked for forgiveness from those he had wronged and offered forgiveness to those who wronged him. He then offered words of cheer to the man who was tied to the stake with him. Everyone involved in that event are long dead now, but Bradford’s words remain. I now know that nearly any horrific tale I read about could well be mine. Life is indeed fragile and there but for the grace of God go Mitch Traphagen. 

Upon finishing this column, I am going to donate to the fund that was set up for Diego Duran, the boy from Ruskin who was shot in the head by so-called celebratory gunfire on New Year’s Eve. It could have been any of us; falling bullets have been known to injure people even inside of homes. That it happened to a smart and happy young man with his entire life ahead of him simply made it all the more tragic. While God may help those who help themselves, I think He does that sometimes by sending people, and not through an elaborate carnival act involving a giant hand reaching from the heavens to stop a bullet.

Perhaps it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished, but I’d rather die like Bradford, with my integrity and principles intact, than as the person who ordered him put to death — or as the person who fired that gun into the air on New Year’s Eve. Regardless of any faith or lack thereof, you still have to live with yourself, after all.

Yeah, I’m a little more cynical, but in the end, where do you want to live? In the land where it’s every man for himself, or in the place where people rush to the aid of someone legitimately in need?  I still choose the latter.