Friday, July 01, 2011

Thoughts on Poverty, Injustice and Generosity

A few years back, someone from church came and asked me how it could be that God allows famine in Africa.

According to the Bible, there are 2 reasons for poverty: 1) Laziness and 2) Oppression and Injustice.

The Bible talks about this:
A poor person's farm may produce much food,
but injustice sweeps it all away. (Prov. 13:23)

Why is there famine in Africa?
Obviously it is not because there is not enough food in the world to feed the entire population of the world - it it because the food of the world is disproportionately distributed. The wealthy countries of the world consume much more than the poorer countries of the world.
And much more food could be produced than is being produced. Much of the farmland in Hungary and Ukraine, for example, is not used to its potential.

So, the short answer to the question - Why is there famine in Africa? Corruption. Injustice. Sin. Because being ethical is often not financially advantageous.

I just finished writing an essay for my theology studies on the contribution of the book of Jeremiah to the issues of social justice - and one thing I found when studying Jeremiah was this: Jeremiah's main claims in the book regarding social justice are 1) that kings and governments have a responsibility to provide care and justice for the poor, but 2) the responsibility to care for the poor does not rest on the government alone, but it is God's expectation that all people be involved in the cause of justice for the most vulnerable members of society.

The basic ethical demand of the Bible is to imitate God (Lev 11:44); as God sums up goodness in his own person, man’s supreme ideal is to imitate Him. Words like ‘hesed’ (steadfast love), ‘munah’ (faithfulness), 'mishpat' (justice) and 'sadaca' (righteousness) are used to describe both God’s character and his moral requirements of human beings.

The "quartet of the vulnerable" in the Bible are: Widows, Orphans, the poor, and Immigrants.

Here is a thought provoking quote from Daniel Estes:
God puts needy people on our path so that we can help to meet their needs, and so that they can be the means by which we can learn to be sensitive and compassionate. When we refuse to look at them, we become blind; when we refuse to listen to them, we become deaf; when we refuse to feel for them, we become cold and hard.
Estes, Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms p.240-241

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for his Maker. (Prov. 14:31a)

That makes me ask the question - what does it mean to oppress the poor? Other than politicians and rich people who take advantage of the poor, where does oppression of the poor end? Does it include supporting industries that oppress the poor? Is that passive oppression?

What can I do to "do justice" and care for the vulnerable?

The righteous know the just cause of the poor,
but the wicked do not understand knowledge. (Prov. 29:7)

Generosity in the Bible is a practice that imitates God's pattern of giving to address the needs of others.
Estes, Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms p.243

These are things I am thinking about lately.
I don't have all the answers yet, but I believe I am asking the right questions.

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