Muhammad Yunus wrote a compelling book titled ‘Creating a World without Poverty’. The United Nations Millennium Goals are focused toward a world without poverty. These are both at this stage, futuristic ideals. But there was once a world without poverty.
Jeffrey Sachs’ book, The End of Poverty is reviewed as being a Landmark exploration of the roots of economic prosperity and after I read the book, I found myself wanting to explore not the roots of prosperity, but the roots of poverty. The Fall was where I traced the roots of poverty too and therefore presents a perfect biblical narrative to land a discussion on poverty and the poor.
Prefall, the world was pre poverty and pre poor. The bible indicates that the land produced more than adequate for the population’s need (albeit just two) and man was required to only “tend the garden”. In the Hebrew sense of the word – it means to dress it:- to make small adjustments. Post sin entering the world, God handed down the judgment and it was that the man would now have to till the ground with the sweat of his brow: that the ground was cursed and it would now produce thorns and thistles. So why is this the root of poverty?
1) Cursed is the Ground – It’s hard work and man now fights against this curse in order to provide for his family. Some people are unable to work. Some people are unable to work hard.
2) For some – the thorns and thistles over run the garden – lack of opportunity, failed opportunity, corruption, thieves. Thorns and thistles can be allegoric in nature.
3) For some – the ground they work in –
- is disputed land and so there is conflict – think Syria.
- The ground is in famine – think Bangladesh.
- The market for the goods the ground produces is distorted – think farm subsidies in the US that dump cheap food on Asian Markets.
- The ground they live on destines them to poverty through cultural, religious or economic issues – think Nepal – one of the poorest nations on earth – or think North Korea.
- The ground they have is wanted by others and so it becomes part of a conflict – again think Syria.
- For others their ground has oil under it – think the US wanting the oil of Iraq.
4) Some people don’t want to toil or unable to toil
5) There are different capacities for making the ground produce – speaking of the ground as a symbol for making money.
At times there is the interplay of these 5 factors to exacerbate poverty and suffering.
So what do we do? Well there are over 2000 verses in the bible that talk about how Christians treat the poor, the marginalised, the disempowered, the orphans, the widows and the weak. Second only to personal redemption in terms of its biblical emphasis, our treatment of the poor is a big deal to God.
I find this incredibly challenging. And incredibly inspiring at the same time. Jesus in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats makes this amazing statement. Matt 25:37-40 (Message Paraphrase)
37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
When we help the poor, the overlooked and the ignored – we are, in the economy of God – helping Him.
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