I am currently blogging my way through the book “When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself.” As I shared in my first post, the author starts by asking foundational theological questions. How you answer these questions will shape how you approach those who are materially poor. I think the reason Christians are not more unified around caring for the poor comes down to our basic theological differences and how we answer these questions which I shared in the first post.
Why did Jesus come to earth? Like the authors, I believe Jesus answers that question in Luke 4:17-21, his first sermon, where Jesus reads the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
He also spoke directly to the reason he came in Luke 4: 43 ““I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” My answer to this question would be Jesus came to usher in God’s Kingdom here on earth, a kingdom where everything is healed and where there is no more suffering.
What is the task of the church? The authors draw from Isaiah to answer this question. Both from chapter 1 vs 16, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” and chapter 58:9-10, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
The authors also point to 1 John 3:16-18 which reads “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” In other words, the role of the church is to continue Jesus work of ushering in the kingdom by caring for the poor and oppressed and reducing the suffering on this earth.
Our faith is not some privatized belief system or pious code we are to follow to achieve personal holiness. God is not Santa Claus just sitting around waiting for our wish list so he can bestow blessings upon us if we are not naughty. Our faith is not about having some secret knowledge or being a faithful member of some private club. Our beliefs are expressed not only through words but through our love for those our Lord loved. The church should be active, alive, transformative and should further the mission of Christ and usher in God’s Kingdom here on earth. OK – I’ll step down off my soap box and dispense with the preaching.
While the authors of this book are clearly conservative evangelicals, I found much of this book very affirming and a much needed resource for evangelicals who desire to do this kind of work. The authors were wise to start this conversation about alleviating poverty with a clear theological grounding. Those who seek to serve the materially poor out of a humanist concern or whose desire grows out of some other theological foundation are often the ones who get hurt in the process or who unintentionally hurt others. When we enter into this work out of a clear desire to live as Christ in the world, we are able to build on a solid foundation.