A few months ago, I said in a blog post that “I’ve come to realize that poverty is about far more than just a lack of material resources. Poverty involves a breakdown in relationships – between people and God, their families, their community, and themselves….
Think back to God’s original design of creation. Think back to what the Garden of Eden might have looked like – when it was just Adam and Eve, in perfect relationship with their Creator, with each other, and with His creation. However, mankind made the decision to choose its own way over God’s, and that created brokenness first and foremost in our relationship to God and secondly with His creation.
In their book When Helping Hurts, Corbett and Fikkert describe foundational relationships for each person:
When these relationships are healthy and thriving, as God intended, every person (who is made in God’s image) is free to be all that God intended, experiencing fullness of life.
But sin resulted in the fall (Genesis 3), which resulted in brokenness that ultimately we all experience. All the tragedy, pain, and sin we see around us can be traced back to the fall. And that includes the situation faced by the poor in our city and our world – meaning that “poverty” is actually a much more complex situation than simply lacking material things.
We need to understand how broken relationships play a part in poverty today, so that we can respond to the poor in biblically wise ways. Today, we’ll look at the most foundational relationship – people’s relationship with God – and how it plays a critical part in keeping people in ongoing poverty. In future weeks, we’ll look at the impact of the other three relationships.
The reality is that we all believe something about God. All of us are “theologians.” And our theology drives our actions – what we prioritize, the relationships we invest in, and the way we spend our time and money. Everything!
I remember (like it was yesterday) a meeting I had many years ago with a friend of ours, who is the principal of an urban high school for high-risk students. Many of these kids have found their way to the school after being expelled from public school or coming from a juvenile detention center. The principal had described the challenges these kids faced: gang violence, sexuality and teen pregnancy, drug use, lack of supportive parents, and housing issues – just to name a few.
“I want to show you something,” she said as she unrolled a roll of butcher block paper. “Today I asked the kids to write down who they thought God was.”
Phrases like “The great pimp in the sky” and “The old man upstairs”filled the sheet of paper.
Looking over these perspectives of God, it began to make so much sense to me why these kids and their entire communities struggle the way they do. Such ideas, regardless of how the kids arrived at them, can’t help but change the way they act. A pimp uses and abuses you for his own purposes, then discards you when you’re of no further use. An old man doesn’t know or care much about your actions, and he may have little opportunity to help you.
If these were your views of God, how would that influence your choices? How might it keep you in a situation that experiences less than God’s abundant life?
One night, I received a call from one of my staff friends’ little daughters, who was doing a project for school. She asked, “Mr. Ward, what do you think people in our city really need?” While it would have been easy to talk about better education, lower crime, financial literacy, more and higher-paying jobs, safe housing, or affordable health care, I said “People need Jesus.” And I was speaking about myself as much as any of my materially poor friends.
So, we must infuse any response to poverty with the spiritual solution to all poverty – Jesus Christ.
Whether you are an at-risk kid writing about God on butcher paper, or a person reading this blog who struggles with materialism, pride, or other spiritual idols, you are a theologian, and theology drives your behavior (Romans 12:2). (That’s right – we who seek to help the poor aren’t off the hook, either. We’ll be blogging about our hearts soon.)
When we respond to poverty, whether systems that keep people in a state of poverty or individuals who are there due to their own choices, we cannot overstate the importance of leading with the gospel, God’s plan to reconcile and restore our relationship with Him through faith in the work of His Son Jesus, and our call to follow him – as the means to transform hearts and minds.