Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When Helping Hurts

Chapter 2, part 2

One of the things that my pastor and the authors of this book stress is the poverty of all people before God.  The argument is that if we truly recognize our own poverty, we will not be able to look down on the materially poor.  The author relates a story of discovering his own spiritual poverty in the midst of powerful saints living in the midst of one of the worst slums in the world.

But that "everybody's poor" mantra rubs me the wrong way.  I know that if people truly accept it, such a view would eliminate economically based prejudice that is ingrained in our culture.  However, it seems to me that "everybody's poor" just gives me another excuse to do nothing.  It allows me to dismiss passages of scripture which speak of poverty as if they were simply about spiritual poverty, and return to trying to solve all problems by the proclamation of the Gospel, without its demonstration.

Then, at the very end of chapter 2, the authors finally addressed this issue!  I was delighted to read these paragraphs:

...while "material poverty" is rooted in the brokenness of the four foundational relationships--a brokenness we all experience in different ways--this does not mean that there is nothing unique about "the poor" in Scripture. Although there are places in the Bible in which the term "poor" is used generically to describe the general plight of humanity, there are a host of texts in which the term is referring very specifially to those who are economically destitute. We cannot let ourselves off the hook by saying to ourselves, "I am fulfilling the Bible's commands to help the poor by loving the wealthy lady next door with the troubled marriage." Yes, the lady is experiencing a "poverty of community," and it is good to help her.  But this is not the type of person referred to in such passages as 1 John 3:17.
The economically poor are singled out in Scripture as being in a particularly desperate category and as needing very specific attention (Acts 6:1-7). The fact that all humanity has some things in common with the materially poor does not negate their unique and overwhelming suffering nor the special place that they have in God's heart, as emphasized throughout the Old and New Testaments.


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