(Pacific Beach) San Diego, California Photographer: Dirk Hansen
God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. “If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places” Bono speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 2nd, 2006
“It’s absolutely clear what’s on God’s mind. You just have to read scripture. Those who read Scripture and don’t come away with God’s preferential concern for the poor are just blind given that there are 2,103 verses of Scriptures about the poor.“ Bono “All I know is, if I don’t care about the poor, if my church doesn’t care about the poor, that’s evil.” Tim Keller
“Spiritually blind” and “evil” those seem to be harsh terms, but it is absolutely clear in Scripture that the way we view and treat the poor is a big deal to God. In fact, part of the normal Christian life is to give generously and help those in need physically and spiritually. You can’t separate generosity to the poor from your faith, it is integral to the Christian life. We see a clear example of this in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He describes his first meeting he has with the leaders of the early church while seeking to confirm the gospel he had been preaching among the Gentiles was correct. The letter goes on to talk about how Paul and Barnabas had been entrusted to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, just as they (early disciples and leaders) had been entrusted to preach to the Jews. The scripture goes on to say that the leaders offered the right hand of fellowship to Paul and Barnabas but “they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”
This is significant because the disciples could have set any kind of condition or special exhortation to Paul and Barnabas before offering up their blessing to their ministry. Yet, the condition for their blessing was for Paul and Barnabas to remember the poor. This shows so much about the goodness of God and His love for the poor. We see later on Paul remember this very thing when parts of the early church were experiencing difficulty and He rallied other parts of the church to help contribute. Paul’s concern for the poor did not stop his evangelizing as goes on to effectively evangelize large parts of the world and write two thirds of the New Testament. John Chrysostom a fourth century church father is quoted as saying “”Put the whole world on one side of the scale and you will see that the soul of Paul outweighs it.”
I believe one of the many reasons the Scriptures drive home God’s heart for the poor other than care for their suffering is because of our human bias to see God’s blessing based on the material wealth of the individual. This isn’t new and has happened throughout the ages, one Pharisaical teaching was to only teach the rich. ”Don’t instruct a man unless he is wise, meek, and the son of wealthy parents.”** Parts of the early church took part in favoritism and the Scriptures show leaders correcting them for this evil. George Mueller the 19th century Christian Evangelist first came to His congregation and was informed He would be receiving a nice salary in part by the money received by rich members renting out the best seats in the congregation. Disgusted he immediately ended the practice and refused a salary from the church.
One of the many paradoxical effects of following Jesus teaching is a spritiual blessing. When we help those in need we often feel blessed and fulfilled ourselves. Helping others is a good way to connect with God deeper and feel more attuned to the Holy Spirit who lives in you. There is also growing evidence that taking care of others adds significant years to your life. Taking care of others of course is tough, and is does not always result in happiness but in the end we see that is the best way to live our lives for God.
*One step closer: Why U2 matters to those seeking God. Christian Scharen
**(Babylonian Talmud supplement Aboth de R. Nathan A3.)