Wednesday, July 27, 2005
It seems more and more Christians are developing an open, demonstrable concern for third-world poverty. This is a good thing. I share these sentiments and I'm heartened to see others make overtures towards caring for the suffering overseas. My faith in Christ compels me to care for the fatherless and the widow. Yet I am also called to do everything to the glory of God, a phrase that the Church has long understood to mean a call to excellence. Christ has not called us to mediocrity, whether in the arts or the sciences or our daily work. And when we're talking about alleviating the suffering of millions of people and accomplishing that task with billions of other people's dollars, then the burden to do the right thing is that much greater. The issue of poverty in the third-world goes beyond wanting to help. That's a prerequisite to "doing the right thing." To do the right thing, we must move beyond the idea that our concern even matters. If our concern is misdirected, or we feel that doing something, anything, is better than doing nothing, then we've deluded ourselves and harmed the people we sought to help.Matt has it exactly right. Watching the recent reporting on Live 8 and similar efforts, I immediately conclude that these efforts are counterproductive if they enable corrupt, malignant, and incompetent regimes to further enslave or impverish their own people. Overwhlemingly, poverty in nations of the Third World is greatly exascerbated (if not caused outright) by the thievery and venality of their despotic rulers. Violence and brutal mayhem, theft and genocide often accompany these miseries.
Yet we are called as Christians, to do everything for the glory of God, quite correctly understood as a call to excellence as Matt points out. Finding one's course in this regard requires great discernment, a proper quantity of which is all too frequently lacking on the part of well-intended but misguided celebrities.
Matt emphasizes that a change of heart is a necessary and critical component of any real change to the structures and causes of poverty and related depravations. As Christians, we must acknowledge that peace and truth that lasts comes only through Christ. He concludes:
As much as I pray that Africa and other poverty-stricken regions of the world can find relief, I must acknolwedge that true relief is found only in Christ. I must also acknowledge that my intentions mean nothing if my plans don't work. A fisherman can want with all his heart to catch a fish, but if he is not fishing correctly, his longing is in vain. Likewise we must acknowledge that Christ's command to care for the less fortunate must mean more than tossing money at the problem and thinking that true change can come from the government and not from the heart. To pretend otherwise is extremely dangerous.We so often try to put troubles and problems out of sight and mind with mere money, don't we? That's perhaps our greatest temptation in this age of material over-abundance. Dollars to this, dollars to that, assuage our conscience and make the hurt seem so much further away from us and our creature comforts.
Jesus said, "For you have the poor with you always, but me you do not havce always." This was not intended as a perpetual acceptance of the misery of the poor, but rather a sad statement of the vagaries of this life, and the inevitability of those who will fall and stumble and lack through no fault of their own but by mere inheritance of poverty. When he said this, Jesus was warning His followers of that time that He would be taken away from them in sacrifice for their very sins and the sins of the whole world.
And yet, He knew that in the ripening of time and His Father's plan for salvation, that He must be taken and die and lie buried and rise again on the third day. And in this, His ressurection, atone for all the sins of man that make the everpresent poor and foresaken as foresaken as they are. And in that act of mercy, Jesus pointed a way towards the call to excellence, all for the glory of God. How mislead we would be, if we turned from His example and focused solely on the hurt we would vainly seek to soothe.
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