The Fly in the Eye

Where do our ideas on poverty and justice come from?

As we’ve discussed in our last few posts, addressing and engaging in a problem all begins with how we define the problem in the first place. So, when we talk about tackling poverty, we have to begin by pondering what poverty means to us and to the rest of the world. In the western world, our ideas of poverty largely stem from the media. The picture of poverty portrayed, both local and global, is often oversimplified and inaccurate. When we fail to think critically, we can easily end up with unhelpful and even damaging solutions.

I touched on this in a past blog entry, The Stories We Tell:

The perception that many people have of developing nations, especially in Africa, is extremely inaccurate, and has been for most of history. The narrative that is commonly communicated about the developing world is horribly misleading, and sometimes blatantly false. Most people are genuinely ignorant about the realities of life in developing nations, and see them only through the narrative of poverty and instability.

This one-sided narrative is really damaging. When you take the time to see what’s really there, you find that life outside of the western world is not all deprivation and desperation. You will find hope and promise, young entrepreneurs, strong female leaders, human rights activists, successful businesses, technological innovation, vibrant culture, beautiful art, incredible music. You will find multidimensional people with ambitions, interests, talents, and abilities – people with so much to offer the world.

Expanding our understanding

We’re not talking about minimizing the material poverty that is very real in the developing world and in many parts of the developed world, but rather about expanding our understanding of what’s really going on to see it in a multidimensional, whole, and truthful way.

Part of this has to do with defining poverty in a different, more comprehensive way (not just material but relational); part of it is about seeing “others” as people just like us, who are so much more than their economic situation. And another part of it is viewing the whole issue from God’s perspective. It is about learning to see people the way God sees them and to see ourselves the way God sees us.

God has a special place in his heart and in his mission for the poor and vulnerable. He desires justice for them and commands us to care for them. But we have to be so careful in the way we approach this command. We’ve seen a lot of attempts to “fix” things that have actually just made things worse.  People don’t want to be seen as projects to be fixed. They want to be valued as human beings. Yet, we often approach helping others with a “fix it” attitude.We have to ask ourselves before we enter into the problem: What is our attitude? What is our motivation? How much do we really know?

Humility is the way

I believe the best way to understand how to carry out God’s mission is to look at how Jesus did it first. The way in which Jesus engages with the poor is by putting himself in their place. He gets to know them and builds honest relationships. Jesus sees them for who they are. He treats them with dignity and respect, recognizing their need to be seen and loved as equal to their material need.

The Bible is actually very straightforward about this method. Philippians 2:5-8 reads:

“As you deal with one another, think and act like Jesus did. In his very nature he was God. Jesus was equal with God. But Jesus didn’t take advantage of that fact. Instead, he made himself nothing. He did this by taking on the nature of a servant. He was made just like human beings. He appeared as a man. He was humble and obeyed God completely.”

It is essential that we approach the problem of poverty with humility and recognition of our own brokenness. We are no better than anyone else. But by trusting and closely following God in His work, we can engage in the solution in a way that dignifies others and brings us closer together in our humanity.

REFLECTIONS

  • Think of some times when you’ve helped others. What were your motivations?
  • Has helping someone else ever brought deep significance in your life?
  • How are you different today because of the help you’ve either given or received?

THE CHALLENGE

In his book Reflections on Holiness and Wholeness David Collins writes: “We often think of service as for someone else, and it’s true, our service has value in the way it helps others. But consider this: God longs for us to serve because it is in that position of humility that He works our transformation…It is a sobering moment to realize that, from God’s perspective, the ultimate reason for our acts of service is for our benefit. In this context we begin to realize how much we are in need of relationship with others.”1David Collins, Reflections on Holiness and Wholeness, (Winnipeg, MB: Forever Books, 2010), p. 63

If our attitude is humility and our motivation is love, God uses our acts of helping others to transform our hearts and lives, as well. The call to community and to care for others transforms us. Furthermore, it transforms those we serve into what God originally had in mind for us and the world. How are you being transformed today?

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. David Collins, Reflections on Holiness and Wholeness, (Winnipeg, MB: Forever Books, 2010), p. 63