I am reading a book for school called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider. I am well aware that my emotions are off the charts right now because of what I just read, but I know I need to write this, even if it’s just for my own heart. I also know that there will be those who push back on some things that I say, and I am okay with that. This is something that we need to always keep in front of us because of the culture in which we live in and how easy it is to neglect truths of Scripture because we have been more informed by our society than we have by God’s living and eternal word.
Anyways, in Sider’s book, he recounts stories that he has heard from friends. One story he recounts came from the former president of World Vision who visited the slums in Brazil.
“He wrote this heartrending account about his visit:
‘My emotions could scarcely take in what I saw and heard. The 3 year old twins, lying naked and unmoving on a small cot, were in the last act of their personal drama. Mercifully, the curtain was coming down on their brief appearance. Malnutrition, was the villain. The 2 year old played a silent role, his brain already vegetating from marasmus, a severe form of malnutrition.
The father is without work. Both he and Maria (his wife) are anguished over their existence, but they are too proud to beg. He tries to shine shoes. Maria cannot talk about their condition. She tries, but the words just will not come. Her mother’s love is deep and tender, and the daily deterioration of her children is more than she can bear. Tears must be the vocabulary of the anguished soul.’ ”
Sider goes on to say after this story:
“And while Sebastian and Maria’ s twins lay dying, there was an abundance of food in the world. But it was not divided fairly. The well-to-do in Brazil had plenty to eat. More than 200 million US citizens were consuming enough food…to feed more than one billion people in the poor countries. Oxford economist Donald Hay has pointed out that a mere 2% of the world’s grain harvest would be enough, if shared, to erase the problem of hunger and malnutrition around the world!”
He goes on:
“This is how the famine has been redefined, or rather, redistributed! It no longer inconveniences the rich and the powerful. It strikes only the poor and the powerless. Since the poor usually die in relative obscurity, the rich of all nations comfortably ignore this kind of famine. But famine–redefined and redistribute–is alive and well. Even in good times, millions and millions of persons go to bed hungry, and children’s brains vegetate and their bodies succumb prematurely to disease.”
Wow, that is very provocative writing that would stir anyone’s heart. My purpose in sharing this is only because it is so easy to live with the knowledge that there are people dying of hunger and preventable diseases as we speak, but that knowledge is not personal to our lives, and so it is easy for us to go on living and not make any changes in our lives.
I am currently sitting at Starbucks listening to the buzz of consumers order drinks that have been created in the last five years because consumerism has driven them to make up different drinks to keep our emotions happy. And this is leisure consumption, not necessary consumption. Here I am with my soul satisfying coffee after a nice lunch, with a back up water for me to drink once my coffee is finished. How many stories am I going to read until I remain changed forever. Or is it that emotional stories that pull at my heart do not have the power to change my idolatrous heart. Yeh, I think that’s the problem. So naturally, I turn to God’s word.
In the Old Testament (OT), God’s laws that he gave to Israel came on the heels of Him showing His commitment to provide for His people (Exodus 1-18); then the 10 commandments came in Exodus 20. Only after God provides for and delivers His people, does He call them to obey Him. God’s call of obedience to Israel was so that they would live their lives in such a way that all the other nations would see the goodness of God. This is also why all the other laws in the OT were given as well.
God gave specific laws that protected those who could not protect themselves, and provided for those who could not provide for themselves, and took in those who would not survive if they were not taken in. God’s laws became the model for how Israel was to treat the poor and vulnerable among them. Leviticus 19:33 applied to immigrants; Deuteronomy 24:17-18 applied to the widow, orphan, and immigrant; Deuteronomy 24:19-22 applied to the poor who had no resources; Deuteronomy 24:10-18 applies to unjust, high interest loans to the vulnerable; we could go on and on…
God set up His economy so that the poor were protected from those who would exploit them. This was one of the primary components of Israel being a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” set apart for God, to display His beauty to the nations (Exodus 19:5-6). The way God called them to live was to be a testimony to their neighbors of the reality of the living God in among them.
To press this point a little further regarding God’s economy, Amos 2:7 tells us that social injustice and sexual sin are considered equally appalling sins in the eyes of God. Micah condemns those who use their power to exploit the poor (2:1-3; 3:1-4, 9-12). The OT prophets spent much of their time condemning Israel for their oppression of the poor, squeezing out every piece of land with grain and wine for themselves, and forsaking the poor among them.
Well, I am sad to say that we are participants of this, whether passive or active, we participate. It is a result of where we live in part, and in part it is a result of the numbing effect of culture and society. We are often more immersed in culture than we are in God’s word; this is why lasting change is so difficult. Significant sacrifice from Christians could dramatically reduce the the deaths of those who are dying of hunger and preventable disease, but are lives barely change after knowing this. This has to be only because we are not that impacted by the gospel. To the degree that we understand how much we’ve been given in Christ will be the degree that we can truly be changed by God’s gospel.
We need to be changed more by the gospel than we are by our culture. We need to be moved by the debt that was forgiven us because of our sin for us to begin to change long term. We need to be confronted with the reality of our spiritual poverty without Christ for us to truly change the way we live in lasting way. We need to realize that Jesus died to fulfill all the laws that God established only to reveal Himself through a new people. Not Israel, but the church!
We, as redeemed children of God, are the new Israel whom God has chosen to display His goodness to the nations. But now, as the new Israel (the church), we are not living under the law, but grace. This grace that was given to us was not only for our “individual” salvation; but for the salvation of a people whom God is calling into His kingdom. The grace we received was to save our souls from the darkness, then to move us to extend that same radical grace to others who are physically and spiritual poor. This is how the world will know that we are the “kingdom of priests” and God’s “holy nation”.
Sider says in his book, “Do you know how long it would take to improve the lot of the poorest one billion by 50%–using just 1% of global ‘Christians’ income? Less than one year!” He goes on to say, “In 1960, the 20% of the world’s people living in the richest nations had 30 times more than the poorest 20%. B 1997, the richest had 74 times as much. But the percentage of their giving had dropped dramatically.”
We have the money to save lives and take care of the needy more efficiently, but we are not generous enough to do it. We are missing out on the joy of “sacrificial” living and giving when we neglect the mysterious teaching of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We do not truly take Christ at His word because we spend more on ourselves and our provision than we give to others. Again, this is a result of being lulled to sleep by our consumeristic culture. We need to adhere to a different worldview if there is going to be real and lasting change in our lives.
The results of us being lulled to sleep by our culture, is lives being neglected and many deaths being overlooked. Oh I pray for the Lord to radically change my heart. I pray that He would change the way I view life. That He would allow for the opportunities to live differently. That He would give me the faith to believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
I write this post out of a convicted heart of my own, as I am being reminded that millions of people die unnecessarily every year (around 24 million!) because of rich people like me not taking serious God’s word to plead the case for the homeless, the widow, the orphan, the hungry. God measures the integrity of our faith based on how we respond to the least of these. We are living in a time of great wealth and overwhelming poverty. We know what to do. God help us to do it!