In my last post, I stated that I would present a series of posts about how Christians should respond to the poor. This all stems from Dan’s recent post on ‘forced compassion.’ Dan has summed up it well recently when he stated that forced compassion is not true compassion. Instead, forced compassion is a redistribution of wealth. On the other extreme we have ‘free compassion,’ which states that compassion should be truly free from external ‘force.’ Unfortunately, this often results in people rejoicing that they now have extra money in their pockets, tax rates have dropped, and the poor are forgotten. So, howshould we properly respond to the poor.
The first step must be prayer. I’m sure somewhere a large segment of readers are rolling their eyes. Oh no, he’s going spiritual on us! Let me further explain why this is necessary. I care about my neighbor. Just recently, the woman next door lost her job. I care. Her husband is gone for days at a time as a truck driver. I care. I’ve been secretly repairing and repainting things on their house in an effort to help out because I care for my neighbor. However, Milwaukee is fifteen minutes away, I feel bad for the poor in that city, but do I do anything to help them? No. Is this bad? Of course not. I’ve already explained how I care for my neighbor. If I care for my neighbor and you care for your neighbor there will be no poor. Or will there?
Similar arguments are often made concerning racism. My neighbor also happens to be a minority. I care for him, thus I am not a racist. Do I have problems with my neighborhood becoming full of minorities? Of course not because I am not a racist. Will that ever actually happen? Probably not. The problems of racial divide keep the minorities in Milwaukee and those of my race in the burbs. Intentional? No, but it is the reality. Claiming I am not a racist is true, but ineffective in dealing with a systemic problem of racial divide.
Back to the poor. My localized attempts at helping the poor, while kind and noble, will not solve systemic problems of the poor unless I think big picture rather than patting myself on the back for caring for my poor neighbor. The problem, though, is I do not really care about the poor in Milwaukee because I don’t live by them. I care for my neighbor because I have a relationship with them as my neighbor. Those in Milwaukee are nameless faces, statistics on the news, but not my neighbor. Thus, my level of caring is lower or non-existent.
Sadly, though, nothing will take place in Milwaukee until those in the suburbs start caring. And how will people in the suburbs start caring for those they do not live with or even next too? Only the grace of God, thus the call to prayer.
Prayer affects two things. First, it admits the problems of Milwaukee will not begin to be solved until the hearts of the people of Milwaukee are changed, and that is out of my control. Only God can control hearts and change them, so I need to pray for those in Milwaukee. Second, my heart needs to be changed so that I care for those who are distant from me as more than just a number or a ‘project.’ My heart needs to care for the poor in Milwaukee, and I’m no more able to change others hearts than I can my own. Thus, I need to pray. The result of praying for something is that I start to care. My heart is changed, leading to true compassion.
Before we can act, we have to care. If we are honest, I think we will realize that we only care about our own spheres. In order to care for those who are where we are not, our hearts must change. We cannot have free compassion without compassion in the first place. So, let us pray and ask God to change us so that we truly care. Only when we care can we prepare to act.