The Optimistic Christian
One Weird Trick to Help the Poor
Helping the poor is something God has actually told us how to do, and there is no instance in the Bible in which it involves "redistributing" other people's income or wealth. This doesn't mean that it can't involve public assistance provided from our taxes. But if the pretext for the expenditure is a scheme of "redistribution," then our purpose is not pleasing to God. "Redistribution" is an abstract goal, focused on numbers rather than people, and based on an invidious and theoretical dissatisfaction with material conditions. "Helping the poor," by contrast, is focused on the people involved, and is a goal that can only be satisfied through personal attention and observation.
It is hard to think of any example in the New Testament that justifies treating the people around us as anonymous "third parties" differentiated by income levels. Indeed, the life of Jesus and the adventures of the Apostles preclude any idea of seeing our neighbors in a systematic, impersonal light. Jesus told us what it means to love our neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37). The Samaritan gave direct succor to the victim of a roadside robbery, and as numerous Bible teachers have pointed out, he also went on his way and attended to his own affairs. He gave time and resources to help a fellow man in distress, but his condition did not change, nor did it need to. In God's economy, giving is an expression of bounty, not a form of expiation or apology, or a search for sort of socioeconomic homeostasis.
Our ability to collect data on each other has not made us wiser than the God who created us. The basic moral relation of the universe is still between the individual and God. In that relationship, each of us is the sinner, and there is no other human in the room—not even a rich person who isn't giving enough to the poor. When God appoints us to help the poor, He knows far better than we do what other people could be giving. The reason He's talking to us is that He wants us to reach for our wallets and schedule our time. That's the one weird trick that God has ordained to make a difference—in helping the poor, and in demonstrating our own trust, obedience, and compassion.
J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer and evangelical Christian. She retired in 2004 and blogs from the Inland Empire of southern California. She writes for Commentary's CONTENTIONS blog, Hot Air's Green Room, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.