Can Poverty Be Eradicated?
Jesus said, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. John 12:8
A quick search on Google on the subject of “eradicating poverty brings up 469,000 hits in a split second. Those who have announced the eradication of world poverty as one of their major objectives make strange bedfellows for they range from evangelical to extreme liberal religious church associations, from one religious faith to the opposite, from conservative to left wing political groups, from one political philosophy to those diametrically opposed. It seems that most everyone is in the hunt to eradicate poverty from the world. And why not? For those who have witnessed it firsthand it is a horrific, miserable, unforgettable sight. The degradation of humanity to the extreme in the midst of the worst slums of the poor in the world is nigh unbelievable if you did not see it with your own eyes. Those who choose to live in the midst of it for a lifetime of service to do what they can are the real heroes of the world though they are neither idolized nor pursued as models on how to spend your life. Such is reserved for Rappers or athletes, fashion models or successful politicians, billionaires or movie stars. But the real question is this: Is the objective of eliminating poverty even achievable?
Such goals have been pronounced with grave seriousness 50 or even 100 years ago. Trillions upon trillions of dollars have been spent in the meantime, yet the poor are still here. Jesus said over 2000 years ago that the poor will always be with us. It is most enlightening to examine the biblical text around Jesus’ statement. The Gospel of John passage relates that Judas Iscariot immediately complained when Mary poured out a pint of pure perfume on Jesus’ feet, equivalent to a year’s wages. Claiming mercy for the poor Judas angrily said it was a waste of precious resources which could have gone for the alleviation of poverty. The Holy Spirit reveals the true intent of Judas’ concern; his own pocket! Apparently it was the “last straw for Judas who proceeded immediately to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver for himself. I rather doubt he intended to share any of it with the poor. This attitude has accompanied poverty programs throughout history. Just look at the annual salaries of the head of the Red Cross, the Boys and Girls Club of America, or the government officials and administrators appointed to dole out tax monies to eradicate poverty in America and around the globe.
Jesus rightly sees the heart of poverty and the reason for its existence: sin. He also sees the hearts of the rich when he says it is harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of the needle. Sin is not relegated to the hearts of the poor. But sin is the key to eliminating poverty in each individual soul mired in it. The gospel and the Jesus of the gospel borne by his servants is the only medicine that will transform a life and eliminate the poverty in it. Money has never been the answer to eliminating poverty. If you immediately stopped the world long enough to evenly disseminate its resources to every single living individual within a very few years we would see some in poverty and still others becoming rich on the backs of the poor. Sin is and has always been the problem in every man’s heart.
The recognition of the truth never removes the responsibility of those rich in grace to be merciful to the poor with the wisdom of the gospel message able to transform lives. At the Paul Anderson Youth Home we see young men with attitudes that would result in their extreme poverty if it were not for the sustenance of those around them. The source of such attitudes is sin. The remedy is Jesus Christ. His presence alone eradicates poverty.
“Bless thou the truth, dear Lord, to me, to me, as thou didst bless the bread by Galilee; then shall bondage cease, all fetters fall; and I shall find my peace, my All in all.
(2nd verse from Mary Lathbury’s hymn, “Break Thou the Bread of Life, 1877)
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Not My Fault!
“…Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27b
One of the most noticeable characteristics of many of the young men arriving at the Paul Anderson Youth Home is that they have a well established perspective that their problems are most often everyone else’s fault. They would not have any problems if it were not for the behavior and attitude of those around them; so they think. And all of us have to admit this characteristic is something with which we are quite familiar when we honestly and maturely evaluate our own tendencies. It is all too frequently an early if not the first thought when trouble of one kind or another invades our personal space. The fact that in some cases it is someone else’s fault only exacerbates the erroneous perspective that almost all “ripples in our pond are the result of someone else throwing rocks. Nursing and sustaining such a perspective is never a good thing; and it leads to a downward spiral in life rather than growth in the right direction.
C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says the myriad of choices we make in life on a daily basis are a far greater thing than we realize in the minutia of life or the rage of the moment. He writes, “I would rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature; either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven; that is it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other. I would say Lewis is describing moving toward the realization of glory, the fulfillment of all God created you to possibly be, or moving in quite the opposite direction, away from it toward utter ruin.
Not blaming our ills on any one but ourselves is not something natural to our fallen nature. Such a radical departure from the tendencies that stalk us requires, the Apostle Paul says, a mystery unfolding within your own spirit, mind and emotions: “Christ in you, the hope of glory. It requires the knowledge and nurturing of Christ’s attitude in place of your own. An excellent description of His attitude and nature is found in Philippians 2. Inculcating this attitude of Jesus by prayer in the Spirit brings about a more instinctive consideration of your own culpability in a crucial moment before or in place of the culpability of your neighbor. Such may sound like it leaves you vulnerable to attack or denigration, weakening your own “rightful position. But this cannot be the case if you believe the words of the Savior. Rather it points you in the right direction, the actual experiencing of Christ in you, and a brighter and clearer hope of glory! Such an attitude is radical and flies in the face of all self-defenses and pride. But you will not find pride in Philippians 2; only in the prince and father of lies and all who follow in his train.
Dare to be radical!
“May the mind of Christ my Savior live in me from day to day, by His love and power controlling all I do and say.
“May the peace of God my Father rule my life in everything, that I may be calm to comfort sick and sorrowing.”
“May the love of Jesus fill me as the waters fill the sea; Him exalting, self abasing, this is victory.
(Verses 1, 3, 4 of Kate Wilkinson’s hymn, “May the Mind of Christ My Savior, 1925)
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Time Heals All Ills; or Does It?
“For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? Hebrews 2:2 Jesus said,“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. Matthew 12:36
The old proverb “time heals all ills describes a prevailing attitude man continually nurses concerning his sins. Perhaps the common saying “out of sight, out of mind best explains how our minds work in this regard. C.S. Lewis wrote, “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. I have heard others, and I have heard myself, recounting cruelties and falsehoods committed in boyhood as if they were no concern of the present speaker’s, and even with laughter. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of sin.(The Problem of Pain) Jesus goes so far as to say that we must give account even for the careless words we have said in anger, frustration, jealousy, you name it; not to mention all the sins that exceed careless words. But as time passes we think less and less of the gravity or consequence of those specific sins as they become more obscure in the recesses of our mind, until they are mostly if not completely forgotten. In fact we can be so insensitive to sin even in the actual performing of it that we are unconscious to the truth that we have even sinned; and it is especially so the further in time we are removed from the act.
As Lewis wrote, the fact and the guilt of the sin are not removed by either the passage of time or the resulting loss of memory. The Apostle Paul confirms to us, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10) Our problem is not only falsely relying on time, which we allow to pass without rightly sensing our sin, or doing anything about it, as though the passage of time itself will “take care of it; our problem is the belittling of sin in the first place and passing it off as unimportant and without consequence as if it can be dealt with “in time and not immediately. And because it is so, our estimation of the salvation we have in Christ does not nearly match the writer of Hebrews when he passionately exclaims, “How shall we escape if we ignore such a GREAT salvation? If the sin, any sin, even if in our estimation is “small, the salvation we receive in Christ, the cancellation of that sin and its guilt by His blood and sacrifice, is equally small. Consequently, it is not SO GREAT a salvation, for it is unable to even capture our heart and hold it as its greatest treasure. If this is so we cannot truly relate to David when he says, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And being with You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25-26)
If we had a biblical sensitivity to the gravity of sin itself, especially to our own sin in all its manifestations, we would keep a much shorter ledger of our sins; we would deal with them more frequently and urgently; we would not let the sun go down on our anger; we would cling to the mercy and grace immediately available to us—namely, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness. Time in this matter is an evil; it allows us to forget without taking our sins to the throne of grace and dealing with them quickly. Keeping a shorter and shorter ledger leads inevitably to becoming more and more like Christ and seeing Him as He is. There is no greater goal.
“Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me Savior, or I die.
(3rd verse of Augustus Toplady’s hymn, “Rock of Ages Cleft for Me, 1776)
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