Knowing God & Poverty
Recently, I was reading in Deuteronomy 24 for my morning devotion. Just like some of its neighboring books in the Bible, Deuteronomy contains some extended chapters filled with laws and different regulations, some of which are difficult to understand in our twenty-first century world. The headline in my Bible for chapter 24 says “Miscellaneous Laws.” Essentially, this chapter covers laws related to divorce, marriage, stealing, leprosy, loaning money, how to handle your workers, death and sin, and finally, the area that stuck out to me the most in this season, poverty and vulnerable people. Throughout the Scriptures, God clearly shows concern for the poor, oppressed, and vulnerable. Deuteronomy 24:19 says, “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf (a bundle of grain) in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” I have been shown through my time so far in Kenya that we need to be involved in the lives of the fatherless, the widow, and anyone else in vulnerable situations.
I have been a follower of Jesus for about 7 ½ years now. My inclination is to be primarily concerned with right thinking, teaching, and doctrine about God and His character and His work. I am working through a book with our spiritual counselors at CARE for AIDS called The Christ-Centered Expositor. We read and discussed a quote recently from the book that says, “Many of your people (talking about the people under a pastor’s care) may not realize that understanding the nature of God is their greatest need.” The author goes on to quote another pastor, who says, “People are starving for the greatness of God. But most of them would not give this diagnosis of their troubled lives. The majesty of God is an unknown cure.” Without a doubt, people need to know about God and His character.
But knowing about God’s character (His love, righteousness, justice, perfection, grace, mercy, and more) should drive us to emulate God. Often, I’m guilty of letting my desire for knowledge stop there and I do not actually live out how my thinking should dictate. It is to the detriment in how I actually care for people who are in hard situations or generally struggling. I often become so inwardly focused on my own troubles or my own need to learn more rather than aiming to apply all that I know about God and all that He has given me in order to care well for others. In more ways than I can count, God has richly blessed and provided for my every need and want when it comes to material possessions and daily food. Why has He done this? Why did I not grow up as an orphan in a slum in Nairobi with parents who died because of AIDS? Why do I drive a car when so many beloved friends are not afforded that opportunity? Why do I so often feel comfortable in what I have and in what I get to do when I interact with clients of ours who are struggling for daily bread?
My devotional for Deuteronomy 24 says, “God’s concern for the poor is a consistent theme in the Scriptures. Far from romanticizing the plight of the poor as some in the church have occasionally done, God’s Word acknowledges that the poor are often taken advantage of and need society’s protection. The Law of Moses included many regulations that protected the rights of the poor and offered them a kind of social safety net.”
I can easily romanticize poverty or suffering for Jesus or any number of other things, thinking those things are a way to be more authentic and reliant upon the Lord. I have seen people here in Nairobi in really hard situations but they clearly love Jesus more than anything else. And yes, God uses really hard things to draw us to Himself. But that is the thing: these situations are really hard. Poverty is hard. Suffering is hard. Trials are hard. They are not the way life was meant to be (see Genesis 1 and 2), so we should not seek after them or romanticize them, but we should show great concern and care for those who are in these situations. Scripture calls us to learn and grow alongside people in vulnerable circumstances knowing they have so much to offer other individuals, the church as a whole, and society at large. Every person is made in the image of God, so by getting to know people in circumstances different than our own, we can learn more of who God is.
What does it look like to care for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow well and not simply turn into social justice warriors who never tell people about Jesus and simply give food or material possessions and stop at that? I am reminded of the quote above that a person’s greatest need is to know God and His character. In order to care for others well, it seems that we would get involved in a person’s life, into his or her struggles, the dirty parts, and anything hard he or she is experiencing. We cannot change the world by ourselves but that is the beauty of the church at large. I need to be involved in the lives of individuals. We often talk to our visitors about the need with our clients to embrace our common humanity, our common brokenness, and our common need for Jesus to save and redeem us and from there, we can serve and love each other.
I am really grateful for my time with CARE for AIDS where I get to learn from so many people about what it looks like for the church to be involved in the lives of their neighbors. Acts 20:35 quotes Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” I love being a part of CARE for AIDS where we empower people to not just receive but to be the ones to give, even if they seemingly have “little” from the world’s material perspective. CFA gets involved in people’s lives and it is hard but it is so good. I pray that this will be my posture no matter where God takes Casey and me!