And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. – Isaiah 58:10
We finally got around to having a book discussion today after being on hiatus for a few weeks. We mulled over the eighth chapter of If God Is Love, which deals with money and grace. I was asked to lead the conversation and came up with three questions which I will attempt to answer below.
This chapter made me feel guilty. You’ll understand why when you read some of my favorite quotes from this reading.
If people don’t see a personal benefit, they’re much less likely to give.
We’ve made charity – the bandaging of wounds – our focus and ignored how the sharp edges of our economic system tear and rip the poor.
Charity is what we do with our leftovers.
When religion doesn’t temper our selfishness and remind us of our responsibilities to others, religion is worthless, an exercise in self-justification.
If they will be my brothers and sisters in heaven, I must treat them as family right now, whether they live down the street or across the globe.
One thing I found incredibly interesting in this chapter is the author’s interpretation of the story of Jesus using a few loaves and fishes to feed 5,000 people (Matthew 14:13-21). He doesn’t believe that more food miraculously appeared, but that everyone shared what they had brought with them and they wound up with so much food that there were leftovers. This principle can be applied to today’s world, where wealth is so unevenly distributed.
This week’s questions and my attempt at answering them:
Do you think you would be less charitable if there were no incentive, such as a tax break or a feeling of satisfaction?
Yes. I don’t think I’ve ever claimed a donation on my taxes, even though I know that’s a common practice. It certainly isn’t something that motivates me to give. However, feeling like I’ve done something good when I help someone is definitely enough motivation to make me continue to give of myself. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
The author says, “Salvation – turning from self-absorption and toward right relationship with God and others – is demonstrated in generosity.” Discuss your feelings about this statement and how it might alter your view of salvation.
This was a really interesting way of thinking about salvation. The author quoted James 2:15-17, which says that faith without works is dead. He also recalled stories from the New Testament where Jesus commanded people to give to the poor and those who did were blessed with salvation (Luke 19:8-9).
I was reared in a Pentecostal church where salvation was believed attainable through a combination of faith and abiding by regulations in dress and conduct. Later, while attending a Baptist school, I was taught that faith was the only thing that mattered; sin was unavoidable, but automatically forgiven for those who believed (also known as “once saved – always saved”). Neither religion stressed the importance of giving of one’s self to help those less fortunate, which seems to be the driving theology behind the message of Jesus. It is even considered the benchmark for attaining eternal life in heaven (Matthew 25:31-46).
The book says if we all share what we have, then everyone will have plenty. How might your life change – spiritually and financially – if you followed this principle?
That’s a tough one. The author recounts enjoying a pizza with his family, while realizing that what he spent on that one meal could have provided a month’s worth of food for a family overseas. I often feel guilty about being so blessed, feeling at once undeserving and gluttonous. Although I am far from wealthy, I know that my way of life is so much more comfortable than the lives of most of those in the world.
In order for this concept of equality to work, we would have to radically change our lives. Our standard of living would need to be lowered so that other’s could be raised up. While it doesn’t seem likely that we can steer our society away from greed enough to have a global impact, we can personally affect the lives of a few of those who are less fortunate. I am reminded of the saying, “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”