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Left, Right & Christ: A Book Excerpt
It is worth noting that in his remarks on caring for helpless widows, Paul makes no mention of the civil government. He issues no call for Christians to protest the "injustice" of the Roman government leaving the poor without food and work.
In giving to the destitute, givers should also make sure that their compassion is effective, and not a mere sop to the conscience that does unintentional harm. Indiscriminate giving to panhandlers encourages shameless fakes to take to the streets in great numbers for free money. As people become more generous in their handouts, one can expect begging to become more organized and exploitative.
In the film Slumdog Millionaire, a man burns the eyes of an orphan to make the boy's begging more lucrative. This happens in countries where almsgiving is common. In Albania, I saw a young gypsy man with no arms or legs set out shirtless in a busy square. Is it possible that he had been run over by train, and survived with only his torso? From what I was told, it is all too likely that someone maimed him as a child, perhaps a stepfather or captor, so that he would elicit greater sympathy and attract more generous giving. Charity must be wise.
While giving to the poor is an explicit command, the other means of providing for them, such as growing a business or growing the economy in general, are implied but nonetheless real. The Bible does not show us simply "haves" and "have-nots," with the kind-hearted haves doling out alms to the have-nots. Like life itself, the picture is more complex.
Employers and employees prosper together (John 4:36; I Cor. 9:9- 10), though the latter depend on the initiative of the former. After the famine passed, Boaz saw a great harvest, paid many people to help him reap, and left plenty behind for gleaners like Ruth. Even wicked Nabal, Abigail's appalling husband who was "very rich," shared his bounty with his shepherds and shearers (I Sam. 25).
Because employers are in a position to bless simply by virtue of being employers, God gives them moral instruction. They are to pay their workers on time (Deut. 24:15). They are also to pay a customary wage: "The laborer deserves his wages" (Luke 10:7). But it is not the employer's responsibility to fund all his employees into the middle class, regardless of their work. Job paid his servants generously, but he was limited by market constraints. They remained servants.
I once knew a fellow who claimed that he loved his neighbor when he bought stock in IBM. If that were the limit of his charitable efforts, he would not be living a recognizably Christian life. Nonetheless, he had a point. Not everyone who invests is acting in love, but you can wisely invest your money with your neighbor's good in mind. It is said that Ronald Reagan often gave to people in need, quietly writing a check to someone who wrote to him with a sad personal story. But he did far more for the poor by slashing marginal tax rates and freeing people to generate the longest period of economic growth in the twentieth century.
THE MARKET, THE POOR, AND THE TWO PARTIES
As a young man working summer jobs, I learned an important lesson: always use the right tool for the job. At a day job in a warehouse, I needed to cut the plastic straps surrounding a sealed box so I could unpack a washing machine. I looked for something sharp, and found a screwdriver. That's sharp! So I began stabbing at the straps with the screwdriver. (I can see you wincing. I'm wincing too. Ah, youth!) Of course, I missed the straps, pieced the cardboard, and dented the appliance. Lesson learned: never use a tool for any purpose it was not designed to serve. If you do, you are sure to break something or hurt someone.