It may seem like I’ve been rambling for the past three posts (part 1, part 2, part 3), but I took time to cover all that territory to make a very important point: I am neither ignorant of nor willfully refusing to acknowledge the complexities of this topic.
I am currently earning a good wage, working hard as a mother and believe that an honest day’s pay is the best reward for an honest day’s work. When my kids complain or refuse to work, I bristle. I resent being used.
I also see the suffering around me. I’ve been in need of help, submerged so deep in my overwhelming circumstances that I was unable to survive without another person sharing their strength. Having been there, it’s critical to my integrity as a human being and as a Christian that I do what I can.
I see how abusive power structures create and perpetuate cycles of poverty and ignorance and more abuse. I’m compelled to work for justice and stand with the oppressed, to share the strength and the resources I have today with those who have none.
I see the flaws and loopholes and, in some cases, downright incompetence, in the systems of assistance we have in place today. I’m an idealist. I don’t necessarily know how to fix these systems or what an overhauled and more effective system would look like, but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming and thinking and working toward it.
We don’t get to sit back and do nothing just because it’s difficult.
We don’t get to keep our wealth of time, energy, strength, and resources to ourselves just because some unscrupulous people take advantage of it or misuse it or a project fails or we can’t control every minute or penny or decision.
The prophet Isaiah reserved his strongest words for those who wallowed in their wealth and ignored the plight of widows, orphans, and the poor. In Isaiah 58, he told the Israelites that God couldn’t stand their prayers and songs and posturing because they turned a blind eye to those in need. Paul wrote the Corinthian church that God chooses the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise, and the despised to shame the popular. Nowhere in Scripture do you find any loopholes. We are to be wise, certainly, but we must not allow the brokenness around us to paralyze us.
It is immoral to cut off aid when people need it, even when some [or even many] abuse the systems we establish to provide that aid.
Yes, we should qualify people for help in some manner (and yes, there’s the rub). Yes, we must restrain ourselves from rushing in and acting too fast without understanding a situation and a people and a culture. People and systems are complicated and messy, and we cannot short–cut our way to a solution with a one-size-fits-all approach to charity and justice. We must work hard to keep our (well-intentioned) help from creating more problems or actually harming those we are trying to help. This happens all too often. It’s happening right now, here in the US and around the world. We must get this right.
But God has made it very clear: God’s children are to help as wisely and generously as they can. Ultimately, what others choose to do with that aid is between them and God. We can’t control someone just because we give them money. We are not in control, and we deceive ourselves when we act like we are. I think that’s at the root of some of our Western paralysis of charity – we want to buy influence and make people do things our way. When they don’t, we take our ball and go home.
What do you believe about God, really? Do you believe that God is in the business of redeeming us and the world? Do you believe that He invites us to join in that work? Do you believe that God will accomplish what he sets out to do? Do you recognize your own helplessness and desperate need for mercy and forgiveness and God? If so, cynicism and paralysis have no place in us. The words, “You’ve made your bed, now you and your children get to lie in it” must never cross our lips.
We must choose not to let those who use us for our resources blind us to legitimate needs. We must refuse to turn cynical and bitter when assistance programs fail or develop loopholes others exploit. We must continually choose to err on the side of compassion and mercy. This is what God does for us and what God requires of us to do for others.