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Does Anyone Have God-Given Talent?

without me ye can do nothing

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

A boy dreams of being a major league baseball player someday. His parents were both athletes in their younger years, having some success at the high school and college level,

As a youth, he grows quickly, seemingly always a head taller than everyone else. He seems more agile than others his age. He is fast on his feet, quick with his mind, and excels at the game of baseball.

Tee-Ball. Little League. Pony League. High School Baseball. College Baseball.

At every level, he excels.

Finally, his big day comes.

A Major League baseball team makes him their number one draft pick.

It’s not long before he works his way through the minor leagues, and two years after being drafted he makes his Major League début.

He is an instant sensation, quickly showing everyone that he is an all-star in the making.

One night, during a game where he went 4-4, hit a home run, drove in 3 runs, and stole a base, the TV broadcaster explains the greatness of this talented baseball player.

He has a God-given talent to play like he does.

Nary a person will question such an utterance.

It seems if people excel in life, it is because God has blessed them or God has given them a special dose of talent.

Few are the people who excel in life. Most of us have a few things we are good at and we try to nurture those things the best we can. We know we will not be remembered for any great feat, nor will the record books make any mention of us. We live, we love, we die, and then we are forgotten.

It would seem that God doesn’t want most of us to be standouts or superstars. Evidently, God only has a chosen few he blesses with God-given talent.

How does the nontheist explain the baseball player mentioned above? If it is not God-given talent what is it?

Genetics.

Home environment.

Passion.

Hard work.

Training.

Coaches.

Scouts.

Luck.

All of these are better explanations than God-given talent.

We demean people when we reduce their hard work to something God gives them. The few things I am good at in life are the result of my diligence, commitment, and hard work. Granted, these things come easy for me, BUT I still work hard to cultivate and improve the talents I have. I suspect it is the same for you too.

I am all for giving credit to whom credit is due. However, God is not on the credit list.

The all-star baseball player helps propel the home team to the World Series. The team handily wins the series and the little boy, now a grown-up all-star player, is voted the series’ most valuable player.

As he is interviewed after the last game of the series, he says “I want to thank God ____________________.”

And I say to myself or the TV, No I want to thank YOU. Thank you for playing hard. Thank you for hustling on every play. Thank you for working hard every day to be the very best player you could be.

Video Link

This subject reminds me of my all-time favorite TV prayer. Jimmy Stewart, in the movie Shenandoah, uttered the following prayer at the dinner table:

Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t be eatin’ it, if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked Dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel. But we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food were about to eat. Amen.

And all the atheists said AMEN.

all things made by god

Many Christians have been taught that without God/Jesus they can do nothing. Their very breath and motor skills come from God. God feeds them, clothes them, gives them a job, gives them a spouse, gives them children, and gives them, well gives them everything. Jesus said in John 15:5, without me ye can do nothing. Many Christian take this verse to mean that without Jesus they can do absolutely NOTHING. Technically, they don’t really believe this. After all, they do sin. Does God give them the power and ability to sin? Well, that’s different, Bruce. Sin comes from Satan or the flesh. God, who created everything and gives us the breath of life and the ability to exist, gets the credit for the good, but not the bad, right? Good=God, Bad=Satan and the Flesh. But, if God is sovereign, if he is the creator of everything, isn’t he also responsible for sin and the bad things that happen? I thought God has the whole world in his hands and the universe exists because of him?

I am all for giving credit to whom credit is due. If someone can show me God did this or that or God gave so-and-so talent, then I will gladly give God the credit. One question. Which God? How do we know it is the Christian God handing out the talent? Does the Christian God put a Made by Jesus label on those he gives talent to? So many questions . . .

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    BJW

    The idea that God is in charge of everything, but that we sin and the devil can outwit God…makes no goddamn sense. And yet fundies cling to it hard. And my brain automatically interprets “God-given talent” as “this person was born with talent and has worked to excel.”

  2. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    Talent is a word used to put people down. “You must have talent to be able to succeed at running your own business, so don’t YOU bother trying.” It is also used by people to put themselves down. “I don’t have any drawing talent, I could never draw that!” (Aside newsflash: anybody can learn to draw, it’s a skill. Being truly creative in the visual arts is unrelated to whether or not you have mastered drawing.)

    So I flinch when I hear, “Oh, you have talent.” Um, no, I don’t think I”m talented at anything. I have studied to learn things that other people seem to think require some kind of natural talent, but I have achieved them through dedicated hard work and study. Of course, I’m not famous, either, just an ordinary person. There are other things that I would like to do, but I am either physically unable to do them, or I am not willing to upend my current life to do that.

    It might be that talent is a real thing; I honestly don’t know. But too many people are determined that achieving something (perhaps something that they can’t or won’t work for) is beyond them because of a lack of talent. US culture often tells people that we don’t work hard enough, that anyone can do anything they want, and so people need a justification for simply being human and not being able to stretch themselves in all directions. It is utter and total garbage, of course, but that doesn’t mean a lot of folks don’t go through life feeling like they’re not good enough because they aren’t Super Person.

  3. Avatar
    Matilda

    I wanted to laugh when, just before lockdown, I was volunteering at a project. I saw my fellow-volunteer, a retired pastor arriving with a big box in his arms, so I went over and held the door open for him, and repeated that when he went back to his car for a second box. He thanked me and leaned in confidentially and said, ‘You’re a very thoughtful person, god has given you the gift of thoughtfulness.’ No, I just did the blindingly obvious thing….no spiritual mumbo jumbo needed!

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    Even in my formative years in fundamentalism, I resented when I was told that I excelled at something because of God. No, I excelled in school because I started reading at a young age under the tutelage of my mom and grandma who were avid readers, I was provided with copious reading materials, I was curious and inquisitive and was rewarded for asking questions, I had a drive to learn and to excel, I spent many hours reading about things of interest, and i put time into my homework knowing that excelling in school was my way out. With regard to playing the piano, I also excelled – my mom and grandparents paid for lessons for 13 years, I practiced every day, and in a couple of piano competitions I played well enough that the judges thought I should win (in one case, I thought I should have placed 3rd instead of 1st).

    That MLB player spent hours and hours from the time he was knee high to a duck throwing, catching, hitting, running, living and breathing baseball. Parents and coaches worked with him. His parents probably paid for private coaching and expensive travel teams. His was fortunate to be physically healthy and probably large and able to withstand the vigor of training without major injuries. He was labeled exceptional from an early age and nurtured. He’s probably wealthy, or at least has access to resources that impoverished kids don’t. He has a drive to excel. There’s no deity in that picture.

  5. Avatar
    Sharon Drosehn

    I think thanking God kinda comes naturally to us. It’s acknowledging that there’s a force out there that’s certainly more in charge than you are. Plus being humble is an attractive quality. Thanking God, thanking teammates, thanking parents, etc. is a nice gesture.

    Of course, some people can make us laugh and like them by saying something like, “I’d just like to thank one of my favorite people-myself-for….” That way they could give themselves due credit.

      • Avatar
        Southern Lady

        Sure. I mean there could be God. And we know there’s genetics, parents, opportunity, where you were born, etc, etc that greatly influences your life. Personal effort is to be commended also, of course. But there are things that influence even that part.

        Anyway, I think gratitude is a good thing, because there’s so much that goes into it that was not anything that we personally did.

  6. Avatar
    Steve Ruis

    The idea of a god-given talent is a conscious or subconscious hijacking of ordinary life. By claiming a person’s talent is god-given gift creates a sense of obligation in the gift recipient. And how does one respond to such a sense of obligation? By giving a gift back: labor, tithing, proselytizing, etc.

    The cost of giving the gift: $0

    The return on the process: Priceless!

    The amazing thing is the comment: “He was given such gifts” reinforces the believers, too. They see the gift, they assume the giver. Ka-ching!

    It really irritates me that people go in hospital for complicated health reasons and end up with a clean bill of health and … thank God! What about the doctors, the nurses, the hospital administrators and custodians? What about the medical schools that trained them? What about medical researchers who came up with the treatments, drugs, etc.? Pffft, … “It’s a miracle!”

    All that is good is sourced in their god. All that is bad is blamed upon the victim and “Satanic forces” both of which were created by their god but who gets no flak for bad designing.

    Sheesh!

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