The rise and the election of Donald Trump caused a deep stir in America.
Americans have watched the national debt balloon to more than $20 trillion. Politicians in Washington DC are shining a spotlight upon the challenges of Obamacare, and are suggesting that the “best route forward” is to eliminate health insurance coverage for nearly 22,000,000 people. President Trump’s proposed budget includes deep cuts to many social programs that support the least-wealthy and most-vulnerable members of American society. Betsy DeVos continues to support the expansion of school vouchers that will pull funding away from public schools – places where most children in America will be educated and will be prepared for life in a quickly changing world.
I was shocked during a recent conversation with a fellow Christian.
We were discussing the widening economic chasm in our nation, and we were discussing the social programs that have been used to support the most-vulnerable people in America. Welfare. Planned Parenthood. Meals-on-Wheels. Medicaid. You get the point. We hit hot buttons. We discussed places where the Trump Administration is searching for money, so that defense spending can be increased and the most-wealthy can receive a tax-break. And, totally out of the blue, my friend started quoting the Bible. He pointed me to 2 Thessalonians 3:10 where the Bible says: “If anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” He went on to Proverbs 21:25: “The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work.” He read Proverbs 14:23: “Prosperity comes from hard work.” And, then, he quickly turned to words of Jesus that we find in Matthew 26:11 – “You will always have the poor among you.”
And he left me wondering: “Is Poverty God-Ordained?”
The Bible clearly points-out the fact that people clearly live their lives in a wide variety of economic circumstances. The Bible contains the account of Israel’s bondage in the land of Egypt and testifies to the fact that there were slaves, even in the time of Jesus (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22). The Bible contains stories of manservants and maidservants – some of whom became their master’s concubines (Genesis 16:1-2). The Bible testifies to the fact that some people were enslaved for long periods of time; and, in fact, declares that there should be a Jewish Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:1-4, 8-10) where people are released from bondage and personal debt. But, the Year of Jubilee (as least as far as we know) wasn’t celebrated in the Jewish world. Slaves remained slaves. Debts were never cancelled or forgiven. Jewish society (and the entire ancient world) was a place marked by wide economic diversity.
Yes! Jesus did say, “You will always have the poor among you.”
But as we seek to understand the words of Jesus in our current context and in the context of American society, we need to ask ourselves whether those words were meant to tell us that poverty is something that God intentionally built into the Creation, or whether the fallen nature of humanity ensures that economic inequality will continue to exist apart from God’s plan.
Unfortunately, the false teachings of the Prosperity Gospel tend to promote a tragic and prolific lie. Christianity is not a karma-based faith. Christianity is not a faith that teaches that good things happen to good people and that bad things happen to bad people. False prophets continue to teach people that they can buy God’s favor with a few dollars in a collection plate. False prophets continue to teach people that “faith” assures our prosperity and success. The wealthiest people in America have stigmatized the poor, and have taught us that the poor are lazy and unwilling to help themselves. And in a rising-up of pseudo-religious political deception, the Christian-right has swallowed the poison, and has used Biblical proof-texting to condemn the poor and to say that the least-affluent members of our society are pulling others down by taking-away their hard-earned money and by purchasing steaks with food stamps that “we” have given to them.
Yes! Jesus did say, “You will always have the poor among you.”
But Jesus uttered those words, nearly 2,000 years ago, because he knew that those in power will fight to retain their power, and those in power will continue to build societal structures and institutions that enable them to keep their power. We read: “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord.” (Proverbs 11:1) The prophet Amos condemned those who said, “We can’t wait until the New Moon’s over, so that we may sell grain and make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger, and cheat with dishonest scales.” (Amos 8:5) Injustice afflicts the poor and the vulnerable. The powerful use their (sometimes even elected) positions of leadership to secure and to maintain their authority and privilege. Yes. The poor will always be among us. But, in the eyes of Jesus, poverty continues to be a part of our human existence because those in power will continue to abuse the poor in a world that’s infected by the power of sin.
And so, we must clearly admit that poverty is NOT God-ordained if we want to be true to the heart of God’s Word and of Jesus’ teachings. We must realize, as God’s people, that the Bible clearly bears witness to the fact that poverty is not “natural.” Poverty is something that’s both human-created and sustained by those who continue to hoard the resources that others desperately need. The Prosperity Gospel falls apart when Christians look inside of themselves and admit that good things don’t always happen to good folks and bad things don’t always happen to bad folks. Poverty isn’t caused by laziness and a lack of motivation. And those who claim that the “American Dream” can be fully realized by all people need to see that even Jesus knew that that’s totally unrealistic in a world where those in positions of power cling to their power and refuse to allow other people to rise.
“But the Day is surely coming,” says the Lord, when the tables are going to be turned and justice will shine like the sun. The power and the intention of the Lord will not be thwarted forever. Our God remains a God who scatters the proud. God remains a God who brings down the mighty. He remains a God who exalts the humble, and who sends the empty away. (Luke 1:51-53). But, until that Great Day, poverty will continue to exist in America and around the globe – not because God created it or ordained it as a natural part of human community; but, rather, because people made it and people allow it to continue.
The American Court Jester