Is it worth caring for and about those who are poor? By feeding them, are we simply encouraging them to continue to be dependent? If they smoke, or have a pet, or do anything else that we think is wasteful for a poor person, does that mean that they don’t deserve our care? (And what if well-off people do those things? Is it okay for them because “they can afford it.”) Are most poor people simply lazy? What about those with addictions – if we stopped caring for them, would they be forced to make a positive choice and end their addiction (so let’s do them a favor and not care for them)? Is poverty a sign of not pleasing God? Have people in poverty chosen to turn against God? Should they then be left on their own as they “deserve” their poverty? On the other hand, is “keeping up with the Joneses” and succeeding in the American/ capitalist dream a sign of being blessed by God? And if it is, what does that suggest about people who aren’t “succeeding” in those ways?
I ask these questions because I’m constantly surprised by the number of self-identified “Christians” who believe some or all of these things. Why I am surprised? Because it goes against so much of what Jesus Christ himself said about the poor. How can a person identify as a Christ-follower, but not accept what Christ said? Yes, we all do that to some extent, related to many of the things He said – but we need to really become aware of what Jesus really taught – and then we need to act upon it, right?
In a recent blog post, “Constructing an Identity of Lacking to Find God,” Noah Echols writes about what Jesus actually said about the poor – and how He Himself related to them.
Jesus presented a message that is largely ignored today: the more one lacks, the more likely he/she is to seek God…..
…instead of looking to society to find our identity, he proposes that we should look to God. Jesus argues that the more we lack, the easier it is to seek God. This also explains why James would write that we should “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.” He goes on to explain that these trials produce perseverance (implying more trials), which eventually results in becoming “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” No wonder most American Christians find it impossible to seek god outside of secondary sources (the bible, others testimony, etc.) – we are shackled by capitalism’s tendency to discourage a state of lacking….
The author of James writes at the end of chapter one that the “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”…
…[In the Bible] you’ll find a Jesus who spent his days serving the hurt, the unappreciated, the hungry, the poor, the sinners, the outcasts, the oppressed, the abused. He held these people in high regard because he knew that in their brokenness they had the potential to construct an identity around the seeking of God. Learn to value the unvalued and you’ll find God there.
What do you think? Should Christians help and care for those in poverty? If so, which ones? Do we have the right to judge which are “worthy” of care and help? Do you believe the writer’s assertion that those in poverty, those who are outcasts, those who are oppressed and abused, are actually more likely to seek God than those who have “succeeded” in the world’s view of success? Do you believe that God is found among the unvalued? Why or why not? How do your actions line up with what you say you believe?
Ouch! (fingers pointing back at me too!)