mituns: (towers)
One of the more oft-quoted statements of Jesus is "the poor will always be with you". It comes in context of a woman anointing the feet of Jesus with an expensive perfume, and Judas complaining that it would have been better for the perfume to be sold and the proceeds given to the poor.

From this statement, I don't think it's overreaching to extrapolate from this that there will always be need; that no matter what we do, there is always someone who can use a helping hand. As Christians, we should always be ready and willing to help others out. Many people have tried to point out the difference between helping others through personal charity and being forced to through government compulsion, and it is a very valid point, but it really only scratches the surface.

The larger problem is that, particularly because there always be the poor among us, there is always a need for something. There are also different ideas about how to satisfy these needs.

For example, I happened to hear about this place in northern Idaho on the radio once, called Kinderhaven. I guess that up there, the situation was that if somebody was arrested and they had kids that needed to be cared for, the kids either ended up staying with the parent in lockup or they ended up sitting at juvenile hall until other arrangements could be made. Somebody decided that neither of these options were terribly good, and set up a licensed home where children - from birth up to mid-teens - could be brought until they could be taken care of by others. It's a great idea, and certainly fills a need. It is also a charity, and as such, depends on donations to continue this important work. I daresay, though, that it runs more efficiently than a government entity, and does more for the kids, the donors, and the staff than if it were just another government agency.

However, not everyone thinks like this. There is a young woman who runs one of the biggest databases of missing people in the US. She does this completely on her own and does a fantastic job with it. She also has an accompanying blog. One day she was commenting that many families of missing people - especially the families of kids - end up in pretty rough shape after someone goes missing: Among other things, many parents lose jobs (and healthcare) because they spend so much time away searching for their child. In any case, the tenor of the comments started out with, "Oh, it would be so nice if there were someone there to help them," to "The government ought to do something to help these people." A couple of the people there seemed to be taken aback when I said that it sounded like a wonderful charity idea, and I think I also mentioned that they could get started with it themselves.

What was striking was that with the people in the latter example, the idea that the government might take some more money from them was okay, but that it would be too difficult to do something privately. Of course, some of this comes from the idea - which is totally against what the Christian faith teaches - that the individual does not matter, and cannot do anything of consequence on one's own. In this mindset, the only way to effect change is doing so by using the overarching "structure" of government. In this way too, one never has to be the lone voice, the one fool in the wilderness.

However, the problem is, as I stated before, that there always is a need, whether it's a place for kids to go when their parents are in trouble, or if it's support to families of missing people, or creating a place for kids to get out of the house and play on rainy days. The structure of government - any government - is not such that it does very much effectively, and the more needs it tries to satisfy, the more poorly it satisfies all the others. The effect then, is not of the empowerment that comes from giving freely to charity, and people's lives being changed for the better because they recognize that love, but rather that those who pay for the government become slaves to it as its scope becomes greater, and those who receive its "benefit" learn to not only consider it an entitlement, but learn to hate those who support them.
mituns: (Default)
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you."

Hebrews 13:5


Awhile ago, while visiting my grandmother, there was an article in the paper about a television show who had built a house for a local family. If I remember correctly, the mother was disabled, the father had died, and there were six children. The house that was built was enormous, and the comment my grandmother had was something to the effect that although it was good that the family had a more suitable house, did they really need a house that was so extravagant.

My grandmother's attitude about this is hardly unique; furthermore, there are many religious groups in America, such as the Amish, who regard plainness and simple living as some of the greatest virtues a person can exhibit.

However, the flip-side of that is that many live with an inherent distrust of those who are quite wealthy. They tend to believe that when somebody has a lot of money, it must be the love of money that drove them to amass their wealth, and therefore these people worship before a false god.

I would argue, though, that Hebrews 13:5 has less to do with being successful than it does with being covetous. "Be content with what YOU have" hearkens back to the Ten Commandments, where it is spelled out "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." If your neighbor is doing well enough to have any of those things, it's none of your business; that he has these things does not harm you in any way.

The ironic thing is that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is probably regarded as the closest thing to a modern-day saint for many Protestants, despite the fact that he was a very wealthy man from one of Germany's most elite families. The difference is that even from early on, Bonhoeffer's wealth was not what consumed him, but was a means for him to be able to do many of the things that he did. As a young man, working with impoverished youth in Berlin, he realized that as many of them were ready for Confirmation, they could not afford suits for the occasion. Upon realizing this, Bonhoeffer bought material and had a suit made for every one of his students. Furthermore, for whatever wealth that he had here on earth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is still known primarily as being a man who lived by and died for his faith in God.

Yes, the Bible has many special admonitions geared toward the rich. However, as in the parable of the servants with the talents, God is not happy with those of us who are content to do nothing with the talent that He has given us. As in the parable, the servant who was given ten talents and comes back with twenty is praised, as is the servant who is given five, and comes back with ten. It is only the servant who is given the least - and, I'd imagine, was pretty upset with being given the smallest sum - who does absolutely nothing with what he was given, with whom the master is upset. Does the servant who now has twenty really need that much? What about the master? Surely one who lends money to his servants has more than enough to outright give some to his servants to do with as they wish!

There are many, many people in the US and elsewhere who have lived good and upright lives being "plain people". I believe that these are the type of people who make up the backbone of civil societies. Nevertheless, out of everything we must be careful to excise the demon of pride. When we begrudge others of successes and good fortune, it crosses the line into envy. Jesus has a special place in His heart for the poor, and He showed that especially in His ministry on earth, however as long as wealth does not become one's god, He has never commanded anyone not to do the best that he can.

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September 2013

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