God loves the poor; do we?

Original post: March 7, 2008; update: January 27, 2010. It’s certainly interesting to look back on the journey that I’ve been on over the last couple years.

It so happens that I’ve been reading Jim Wallis’s The Great Awakening at the same time as I’ve started going through Isaiah, and at the same time, God continues to nudge me towards what I may well end up doing. Both texts are challenging, especially with regard to the crisis of poverty, something which I’m learning more about and something I’m learning to care more about.

Reading through the Scriptures over the years, I’ve come to know one thing that I wasn’t taught in Sunday School: God is with the poor. God cares about the oppressed, the downtrodden, those who have no one to speak out for them, those who are suffering under the weight of injustice and an unjust system. And when about half the population of the world live on less than two dollars a day (including more than a billion people living on less than one dollar per day), you’ve got to think that God is doing an awful lot of caring.

At the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006, Bono said:

The one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. 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.

From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There’s a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response. And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice. Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad. Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it. But justice is a higher standard.

Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment. Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.

Jim notes, “low-income people have the lowest voter turnout of any group in society (and don’t make many political donations either!)” (107) so it’s no wonder that advocates on their behalf are hard to find on Capitol Hill.

Broken systems need fixing, unjust institutions need correction, change needs to happen at an institutional level—it all seems rather daunting. But God is bigger than broken systems and unjust institutions. And he is on the side of the poor: “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker. Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord.” (Proverbs 14:31; 19:17).

It’s as much a challenge to me: what am I doing to get involved in God’s story? What am I doing as I learn more and more of God’s heart? When we love someone, we come to love the things that they love. God loves the poor. Do we?

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18, cf. Isaiah 61).

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