This Week in History – The Rugged Individual


We like the rugged individual.

  • The guy who stands on his own two feet.
  • The woman who grew a successful business by working hard.

It’s what made America great, right?

America is the land of opportunity and we love the stories of those who found the opportunities and blazed their own trails: the Daniel Boones, the George Washington Carvers, and the Amelia Earharts.

But where did this idea of the rugged individual come from?

Herbert Hoover. It was the closing weeks of the 1928 presidential campaign, and on October 22, 1928, Hoover spoke to a group in New York City. In his speech, he fought the idea that government exists to take care of the people. Because of World War I, the government had enlarged greatly, and the even the conservative Hoover considered it necessary for the sake of winning the war.

“To a large degree we regimented our whole people temporarily into a socialistic state. However justified in time of war, if continued in peace-time it would destroy not only our American system but with it our progress and freedom as well.”

By 1928, the war had long been over, and the government needed to ease off. Hoover said Americans should embrace the notion of rugged individualism and take care of themselves.

Rugged individualism. I like that idea when it comes to government. But it’s a lousy idea when it comes to the Christian life.

Lousy idea? Really? Didn’t Paul write, “Each one should carry their own load” (Gal. 6:5)?

Yes, Paul called for each of us to carry our own load, but just three verses earlier, he said, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (v. 2).

So why did Paul contradict himself in Galatians 5?

He didn’t. The word “load” in verse 2 refers to a heavy, even oppressive, load carried a long distance. The word “burden” in verse 5 is quite different; it referred to a cargo or a backpack. John R. W. Stott explained it this way:

John R. W. Stott

John R. W. Stott

“So we are to bear one another’s ‘burdens’ which are too heavy for a man to bear alone, but there is one burden which we cannot share—indeed do not need to because it is a pack light enough for every man to carry himself—and that is our responsibility to God on the day of judgment. On that day you cannot carry my pack and I cannot carry yours.”

Self-sufficiency is a lie never taught in Scripture.

  1. Any Christian who tries to live the Christian life on his own has lost touch with the lordship of Christ. We are to live surrendered to Him and let His Holy Spirit work through us (Eph. 5:18).
  2. Any Christian who tries to live the Christian life on his own has lost touch with the body of Christ. God has not equipped you with everything you need. In addition to the presence and power of His Spirit, He has given you other believers—the rest of His body. God works through others to support and benefit you.

Go ahead. As an American, be the rugged individual. But if you are a Christian, be the image-bearer of Christ who walks with others. They need you.

And you need them.

 

 

 

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