Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Good We Ought to Do

Something interesting occurred to me yesterday while I was standing in line at the bank to deposit my husband's weekly paycheck. As many of you already know, over lent I've been reading the book, The Hole in Our Gospel, so issues of poverty and injustice in the world have been on my mind a lot lately. Well, for some reason as I stood there looking at his check, I thought about the multitudes of people living on $ a day. Estimates say that 1 billion people in the world are living on less than $1 a day, while 3 billion people (or nearly half of the world's population) are living on less than $2 a day. I looked at my husband's check and realized that in one week -- five days -- he had made more than a large percentage of the world's people will make in 365 days! It was quite sobering to realize just how inequitable things are in the world.
Today I filled up my gas tank and thought: "With the swipe of my credit card, I just spent someone's salary for a whole month in the developing world."

Often, I'm not sure how to deal with this. I find it hard living in the US with the knowledge of what it's like everywhere else. I walk into a grocery store and see aisle after aisle of food, all readily available for my consumption, and I wonder how it can be that there are places where people are literally starving to death. In fact, every three seconds a child dies because he or she didn't get enough to eat. This is unfathomable while I am able not just to meet my needs but to go to restaurants, to buy tubs of ice cream and candies, essentially, to have whatever I want.

27,000 children die each year from starvation. And yet, that's just a statistic. A number that doesn't mean much. I mean, sure it's a big number and we all say, "Wow! That's a lot!" But what if it was a child close to you? What if each one of those children were someone you knew personally -- your child or a friend's? What if you had met them instead of just lumped them into a category of statistical casualties? We have to be able to make poverty personal in order to care.

I am of the mind that the gospel is more than just the good news that Jesus has secured a place for us in heaven. The more I read God's own Word and the more I learn, the more I realize that it is also wrapped up in the words of Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me,
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from the darkness. . .

As the author of the book of James would put it, the gospel is also wrapped up in caring for the widow and orphan.

The Bible is full of passages asking us to care for the poor, to share, to bring equality. In fact, I've read about a man who set about cutting out every passage in the Bible that related to the poor and needy. He did this because he felt that most Christians ignore these passages. Ask yourself: How often do you hear sermons about our responsibility to the poor? At any rate, when he was done cutting out the passages, the Bible was in tatters. It wouldn't even hold together! If the Bible can't hold together without all that God has to say about the poor, how can our faith hold together without some commitment to them?

It's interesting because the Church has become known for everything it's against and for criticizing people for those things that they shouldn't be doing -- whether it's the abuse of drugs or alcohol, murder, adultery, sexual promiscuity, gossip, lying, the list goes on. The author of my book calls these sins of commission --things that we choose to do that violate God's commands. Because of the church's zeal to condemn these sins, the church has earned a reputation of being intolerant and judgmental, defined by what we're against instead of what we're for.

But then the author brings up another kind of sin -- sins of omission. These aren't things we do, but rather things that we know we should do and don't. And he makes the interesting point that throughout the scriptures these are the sins that seem to grieve God the most. (See the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 for a good example of this.) How many times do we break God's heart not becuase of what we've done but because of what we've failed to do? One of the greatest commandments, to love our neighbor as ourself, sounds good until you really stop to consider what it's saying. Then you realize just how hard it is to do, being that we are selfish, sinful human beings.

If I've got $50 in my pocket and want to buy myself a new pair of jeans when I've already got three and know that someone else somewhere in the world has only the clothes on their back, how do I reconcile that? What do I do when my culture tells me I can have more but when my conscience tells me enough is enough? These are the questions that I am wrestling with and trying to find answers to as I'm surrounded by my affluent culture but immersed in the stories of those living in the most desperate kinds of poverty.

James 4:17 says, "Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it sins." Those are tough words. And I find it harder to keep myself clear of sins of omission than sins of commission because there is so much good that needs to be done and yet it's so easy to turn a blind eye to it when all of my needs are met and I'm doing just fine.

I don't want to end this post on a bad note. I don't want you going away feeling guilty for all that you have (although maybe that is the place where some of us need to start), but I do want to raise the questions. And I do want all of us (myself included!) to realize the great part that we can play in writing a history that has hope for the hopeless.

I leave you with this quote:

"Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering and injustice when He could do something about it."
"Well, why don't you ask Him?"
"Because I'm afraid He'd ask me the same question."
-- Anonymous

Coming tomorrow. . . some ideas on where to begin!

No comments:

Post a Comment