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Blog Action Day: Biblical Teachings on Poverty and Wealth

I heard a speaker say recently that the Bible has around 3000 references to caring for the poor.  I haven’t personally counted them but I know there are certainly a lot of them. For many believers the few passages in the Old Testament, primarily in Proverbs, which indicate that wealth is a blessing from God somehow gives them warrent to ignore the overwhelming amount of biblical teaching that wealth is not a good thing unless it is being shared with the poor.  Or they will take Jesus’ statement that there will always be poor people as an excuse for not doing anything about it.  They ignore the fact that Jesus is quoting a familiar passage from Deuteronomy 15 which says:

Give generously to him (your poor brother) and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

There is no place that this teaching is more clear than in Jesus’ dealing the the so-called Rich Young Ruler.  After accepting the young man’s statement that he had kept the commandments, Jesus said:

 “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  Matthew 19:21

To a man who is self-satisfied and content with his wealth (sometimes referred to as Bigger Barns), he said:

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

 Luke 12:20-21

Later in that same passage he talks about treasure saying:

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 Luke 12:32-34

Other teachings on wealth and poverty are:

“I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.” Mark 12:43-44

 

“I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:23-24

 

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (mammon). Matthew 6:24

Many like to point to the passage where it says that it is “the love of money” not money itself that is evil. And somehow that relieves them of the clear biblical mandate to care for the poor and needy.  I challenge anyone to try and find a single time when Jesus had anything good to say about someone who was rich.

We live in a country that is richer than any other country in history and somehow miss it that Jesus’ teaching apply to us.  Just in case there are some out there who don’t think they are wealthy, I encourage you to go to the Global Rich List and enter your income to find out where you rank in relation to the rest of the world.  Just as a warnig, I entered the current poverty level in the US which is $22,200 for a family of four.  At the level you are in the top 11% of the world’s wealthy.  That means there are over 600 million people richer than you but there are 6.2 billion people poorer. 

I don’t say all this to send anyone on a guilt trip, but to show you that if you want to demonstrate your love for God by your obedience to his commands, there is no command that shows up with more frequency in the Bible than the command care for the poor.  I will end with the clearest definition of religion that can be found anywhere in the scriptures. James 1:27 says “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”

 

 

 
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Posted by on 15 October 2008 in Genea-bloggers

 

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What is so scary about a little girl and a compass?

his-dark-materials-the-golden-compass-4.jpg

It has been interesting to hear friends and family on both sides of the current discussion about whether or not The Golden Compass is anti-God, anti-religion, anti-Christian, or perhaps just, taking a clue from something the author actually said, anit-Narnia.  The discussion was made more interesting because none of those talking about it had seen the movie and only half of those talking about it had read any of the books in the series.  My own analysis is that the theme of the books is primarily anti-authoritarian rather than explicitly anti-religion.  That being said, it is clear that the author views various manifestations of religion as the worst kind of authoritarianism. But anyone who can’t accept that premise is ignoring 2000 years of Christian history as well as thousands more years of human history. History is saturated with individuals and groups that were convinced that they had the truth and were therefore obligated to force it on those around them. Christians may not like it,  but historically there are many more examples of the church as abusers of power than of the church explicitly following the teachings of Jesus.

Now that the movie is being released we have even more confusion sorting out what people are really objecting to: the novels? the movie? the comments of the author? As a librarian I have a built-in, deeply-held bias against those who see themselves as self-appointed censors.  I was disturbed but not surprised when the pastor at my church repeated without hesitation many of the distortions of truth that are being circulated in conservative Christian circles.

 An interesting analysis of the books come from Catholic theologian,  Donna Freitas, who writes in the Boston Globe:

These books are deeply theological, and deeply Christian in their theology. The universe of “His Dark Materials” is permeated by a God in love with creation, who watches out for the meekest of all beings — the poor, the marginalized, and the lost. It is a God who yearns to be loved through our respect for the body, the earth, and through our lives in the here and now. This is a rejection of the more classical notion of a detached, transcendent God, but I am a Catholic theologian, and reading this fantasy trilogy enhanced my sense of the divine, of virtue, of the soul, of my faith in God.

The book’s concept of God, in fact, is what makes Pullman’s work so threatening. His trilogy is not filled with attacks on Christianity, but with attacks on authorities who claim access to one true interpretation of a religion. Pullman’s work is filled with the feminist and liberation strands of Catholic theology that have sustained my own faith, and which threaten the power structure of the church. Pullman’s work is not anti-Christian, but anti-orthodox.

 In an era which has recently witnessed film versions of other fantastical worlds, (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter), comparisons are inevitable.  I like the reviewer from the Dallas Morning News who says if Tolkien is like a symphony, Pullman’s work is “more like hip-hop: spiky, violent and angry.” The reviewer goes on to say

. . . here’s what you’ll find in Mr. Pullman’s creation: A transcendent, universal, omniscient intelligence is somehow concerned with the way people live their lives. It takes an active role in human history and seems to want to encourage particular values: loyalty, courage and love. There is something immortal about people that survives physical death and reintegrates with the larger universe. The origin of the universe, and of that cosmic intelligence, is either inexplicable or not explained.  And if you want to believe this all fits together, you’ll have to take some of it on faith.  That isn’t Christianity. But it sure sounds like a religion.

–How does faith fit into film version of ‘The Golden Compass’? By: Weiss, Jeffrey, Dallas Morning News, The (TX), Dec 06, 2007

I can think of a lot more to say, but not much more that would really add anything substantial to the discussion. Just let me end by paraphrasing a review from the Christian Science Monitor–You can boycott and protest all you want, just don’t pretend you are doing it in the name of religion.

 
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Posted by on 8 December 2007 in Cheek

 

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