In the first article, we answered the question “What is poverty?” and this article answers the question, “Why do we care about developing a framework for understanding poverty?”
I’ve wrestled with how to answer that question succinctly and thoroughly. My gut instinct is to say, “Because God said so.” But my mom and dad always warned me against my sassy nature. And besides, that answer has rarely worked for me in my own life, so let’s dive in this together.
Corbett and Fikkert say that “until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.” In their book When Helping Hurts, they discuss a current trend in assisting the poor: Those with wealth and power tend to have god-complexes, not acknowledging that they too are impacted by the fall. As a result their efforts to help the poor unintentionally bring shame to those in poverty. They write,
“One of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich – their god complexes – and the poverty of being of the economically poor – their feelings of inferiority and shame.”
The way in which those not in poverty attempt to assist those in poverty often impairs the poor’s theology of being made in the image of God.
Often, rather than viewing their situation as a result of broken relationships which impact many of the resources that Dr. Payne lists (see previous article), the poor are portrayed as lazy, or even inferior, to those with more material resources. Not only is a misunderstanding of the poor potentially dangerous to them, it also does not reflect how God sees the poor. We need rich theology of God’s perspective of the poor to shape our understanding of the poor.
Social involvement is rooted in the character of God.
Countless passages in Scripture identify God’s deep affection for the poor, the social outcast and the sojourner. Here are just a handful:
Our God is the God “who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” (Psalm 146:6-9)
Our God is the God who “will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” (Psalm 72:12-14)
“Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people.” (Psalm 113:5-8)
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)
“I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted and justice for the poor.” (Psalm 140:12)
Our God is one “who shows no partiality to princes nor regards the rich above the poor, for they all are the work of His hands?” (Job 34:19)
Our God tells us, “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.” (Proverbs 22:22-23)
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you’—when you already have it with you.” (Proverbs 3:27-28)
As Christians we care about the poor first and foremost because we serve a God who cares.
We see God’s love for the poor, desolate, the needy, the outsider and the castaway all throughout the pages of Scripture. We can see it throughout the laws he gave the Israelites that honored the sojourner. We can see it in the people he chose as his disciples. We see it in his parables and the way he loved Zacchaeus, the woman at the well and those with severe medical conditions. And we see it in the way that he loves us.
“Social involvement is rooted in the character of God. He is the God who upholds the cause of the oppressed, who provides for the poor and liberates the prisoner; he sustains the marginalized and the vulnerable,” says Tim Chester. (Good News for the Poor, p. 20-21).
The poor are not other; they are one of us, and they are vitally important to God. Ronald Sider, a seminary professor who has written much on the topic of social justice and poverty, says that concern for the poor is not merely an ethical teaching, rather
“It is first of all a theological truth, a central doctrine of the creed, a constantly repeated biblical teaching about the God we worship. The biblical insistence on God’s concern for the poor is first of all a theological statement about the Creator and Sovereign of the universe.” (Evangelism and Social Action, p. 243)
As Christians we care about the poor first and foremost because we serve a God who cares. We seek to bring shalom to broken resources and relationships because we serve a God who seeks to bring shalom.
This is why we care to understand this topic well, because our mishaps and misunderstandings impact the way people see themselves, God and others. And our right understanding is the first step in bringing shalom to the broken parts of our communities. We care, and as a result of God stirring up our affections for these issues, we run towards the broken parts of our society, not as saviors but as those who have been saved.