photo credits: meeee for once
I think we all agree that there are many needs in our society. Many people groups who are disadvantaged or marginalized in different ways. There is social injustice and neglect at some level in every society, no matter how advanced and sanitized it may seem on the surface, and not being able to see that clearly is usually a good indicator that you too live within the nice bubble wrap layer of privilege and comfort.
I think we also all agree that "it would be nice to do something about it." We'd all love to feel that we're making a difference, that we're improving the lives of others, that we're helping to resolve problems and meet needs. At the same time, that's often the furthest we go. Having said that, we fall back with a helpless shrug and sigh, "But what can I do?"
I'm just one person, after all. I've got no resources. I've got no billions at my disposal. Still trying to pay my own bills, to juggle all my own responsibilities. When it comes to time, I've got barely enough for myself. When it comes to money, why, I don't have enough for myself either. I guess I'll just, er, pray?
Not to dismiss the importance of prayer, of course. But we tend to make that the conclusion to our list of reasons why we can't do anything. I thought that if I couldn't really make a lasting, real difference, I might as well not do anything at all; I worried that I was not educated enough, not experienced enough, that this idea wasn't worthy enough, or it wasn't comprehensive enough. There were so many reasons to hesitate. Too many things to fear. Too many causes for doubt.
I didn't know where to start, or how to start, so I conveniently shelved the whole issue under those excuses, (a familiar coping mechanism, no?) and it was only when I started reading Timothy Keller's book Generous Justice that I felt I was finally starting to deal with this topic properly. It challenged me to better understand and validate this vague sense of urgency--two necessary steps in actually pursuing it. Because sure, everyone accepts that it's good to help others; but specifically as a Christian, why is it so important? what does it signify? How do we help others, what goals or principles should guide us?
Though I haven't finished Keller's book yet, it's already offered some insightful and challenging teachings on this whole issue. Here are some of the key concepts that stood out to me:
Jesus's teaching reflects the same mentality of the OT prophets; the same "penetrating use of justice as heart-analysis, the sign of true faith." As you would remember if you're familiar with the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Micah, the prophets condemned a people who observed external religious duties meticulously, and took pride in it, yet neglected to apply justice in their lives and societies, oppressing the weak and doing nothing to help the needy: "A lack of justice is a sign that the worshippers' hearts are not right with God at all, that their prayers and all their religious observances are just filled with self and pride." (Generous Justice, chapter 3: What did Jesus Say About Justice?)
Keller quotes Isaiah 29:21, when God condemns the people with "depriving the innocent of justice," describing them as "people [who] come near to Me with their mouth and honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me." He concludes, "A lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one's spiritual compass, the heart."
Also, the need for "multiple layers of help", which Keller identifies as "relief, development, and social reform." This challenged me to be thoughtful and specific about an otherwise abstract concept of "help." In order to truly help someone, you need vision for them, that does more than simply resolve the specific problem at hand/meet the urgent need. This reminded me of random articles I had seen online which really resonated with me--people who were blessing their societies and the needs of their communities with vision and dedication and purposefulness, in ways which would have a splash effect/continue to work a positive impact far beyond the actual site of help. I'll mention Simply Wholesome, which makes healthy food affordable and accessible to underserved communities, breaking the cycle where unhealthy, processed, or fast food is all you can afford to know, so that eating healthy doesn't have to be yet another privilege limited to certain income brackets. By doing so, they offer the option to educate and empower individuals to live more healthily, cultivating something far more than merely deciding your next meal.
During my trip, we had the privilege of visiting a small company run by Christians, a team of six people, who had a vision to holistically improve the lives of the farming communities. Just six people, and yet their work encompassed aspects as diverse as clean water, education, better farming practices, and fair trade. I was amazed, and humbled, by the scope of their work--no, ministry is a better term--and their humility and hopefulness. Whereas I had been in Singapore lamenting the fact that it was just me, a broke student, with lots of ideals and hopes but no concrete way of doing anything, here they were, working with limited resources and manpower, yet creating so much change and bringing so much blessing to multiple communities, through individuals and individual families. Hearing them share about their plans, and their beginnings in individual conviction made it clear just how much their faith had to do with initiating and equipping this; providing them with the perseverance, the courage, and the sacrificial love to continue.
I felt challenged to examine my list of reasons--instead of lack of resources or ability, was it a lack of faith? Of that sacrificial spirit? A lack of dedication, to apply and commit myself to research, to action.
It was sobering, humbling, to try and answer those questions. But it was also inspiring to see what they had done, to re-examine what you thought were your limitations, to realize that God delights to show His power through our weakness, through even our limited resources and lack of confidence, through the very fears and doubts that held us back...
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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