Last night at WOW we watched Rob Bell’s video called “Rich,” in which he describes how even the less well-off of us in America possess more than probably 90% of the world, and are therefore undeniably rich. The point is not to guilt us about what we have but to empower us to give and be generous in ways we really couldn’t if we didn’t realize how wealthy we are. If I am content with my necessities—with clean water, three meals a day, a means of working, clothes and a place to live (do we need to add health insurance to that, or is that a luxury most in the world don’t have? There’s a can of worms I don’t want to open)—then anything above and beyond that is a pool of resources from which I can give to others. Even the food we choose to eat is often a luxury. We don’t just eat what we need to remain healthy, we eat what excites our taste buds or what is convenient, and we pay more for it. On the video, Rob said something about the amount of money needed to feed all the hungry people in the world was roughly the same amount that Americans spend on ice cream in a year. What if we all gave up ice cream? “What! But ice cream is so good! How could we give up ice cream?” What if it’s a choice between eating ice cream and keeping someone alive? Now, honestly, we’re probably wealthy enough that we could cut back on a few other things AND feed the hungry AND have our ice cream, too, but it’s that sense that I NEED ice cream, I’m entitled to this luxury and that luxury, that keeps us from recognizing how much we really have to give away.
The discussion after the video at my table helped to clarify some of these thoughts for me. Aside from those in other countries who lack basic necessities—and I am keenly interested in what I can give to them—there is an almost constant call for generosity right in our own Henry County, IN. There are those in our county who don’t have dinner to go home to in the evenings. There are single working mothers who work minimum wage jobs to pay for childcare for their kids while they’re at work and maybe rent, with little left over for food, health care, or even the gas to get to and from work. And we think, good thing for Medicaid, welfare, and food stamps—but that isn’t the way Jesus describes it. In the early days of the church, it was the church, not the civil government that provided for the needy (and I guarantee they weren’t wealthier than we are), and as a result people experienced the love of God and came to understand the gospel. And I know there are bad eggs out there that would scam the church in the name of generosity. I’m not saying don’t evaluate whether their need is genuine—in fact our ability to serve others increases if we take the time to understand their needs rather than just throw money at them. But where there is genuine need, I want to ask, How can I help? rather than, Is this person just going to need help again next month? They jolly well might need help again next month, we’re not going to solve a person’s poverty in a month, but that doesn’t mean we cut them off and let them flounder. That is survival of the fittest, which, if memory serves me, does not comes from the Bible.
The question also came up during discussion, It makes you feel guilty not to help everyone, doesn’t it? I didn’t know how to answer that at the time, because I wasn’t sure how it makes me feel. But no, it doesn’t make me feel guilty. At least, that’s not the main thing I feel. The main feeling, I think, is the potential I possess to help others. Oh the lives I could touch! Who has been in need whose life is not affected by a generous hand? I long for these people to see the love of God, to know that someone cares about their needs. And the only thing preventing me from realizing that is an inability to recognize how much God has given me to make a difference. It almost makes one crazy. Guilty? No. But maybe crazy.