Where is God in poverty?

Poverty and AIDS Zambia: It is estimated that 34 percent of all children under the age of 15 years are orphans.

By Gerald Katayi

Can overfed, comfortably clothed, and luxuriously housed persons understand poverty? Can we truly feel what it is like to be a nine-year old boy playing outside a village school he can not attend because his father is unable to afford the books? Can we comprehend what it means for poverty- stricken parents to watch with helpless grief as their baby daughter dies of common childhood disease because they, like at least one-quarter of our global neighbors today, lack access to elementary health services? Can we grasp the awful truth that thirty-four thousand children die every day of hunger and preventable diseases?[2]

The above quotation, questions and observations by Ronald J. Sider in his book, “Rich Christians in an age of hunger” are not fictional but real. Our news media today is full of such stories. What is the root cause of all this misery? Also where is God in all this? Scripture testifies that, God created the earth and everything in it. And when He saw it, He said that it was good. Genesis 1:21. God’s motivation is noble; his plans are just and right. From the beginning, God placed wealth disproportionately worldwide. In God’s view, everyone has the opportunity to succeed; the parable of the talents certainly gives us insights into this principle. (Matthew 25:14-30.) Scripture again testifies of God’s divine justice, a justice that doesn’t limit the rights of others, but highly respects the worth of all. God is not the author of confusion; His Kingdom is of Righteousness, peace, Joy in the Holy Ghost.

From the statements above, God is taken away from the turmoil of many nations, and He is not the contributor to man’s suffering. We also see that even when God placed wealth disproportionately worldwide, “Unfortunately, the citizens of some of the wealthiest countries are among the poor. Examples include the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries before their awakening to great wealth. After the great awakening, nobility benefited and has continued to do so greatly. In comparison, precious few citizens of those nations profit.”[3]

Each day we continuously learn from the news media about high level child mortality in many countries and how hunger is wiping out the elderly and women. Why should hunger continue to kill people year after year? Why is it that on the same earth some people have more than enough while others can not afford a meal a day? T.B. Maston had this to say, “Most of the problems of the modern period are economic, to some degree, and some of the most perplexing of them are primarily economic.”[4] Why is it so? If these problems are economic, then they are not God made but man made. Many reasons for man made economic problems could be discussed here but I would like to limit myself to exploitation. “The Scriptures also teach that some folk are poor because they are lazy and slothful, and, of course, the Bible speaks of voluntary poverty for the sake of the kingdom. The most common biblical connotation of “the poor,” however, relates to those who are economically impoverished due to calamity or exploitation.” [5]

What about exploitation? First of all, sin and the fall of human nature are the cause of all this misery. “Because of the Fall, sinful people regularly use great inequalities of power to oppress the weak. Again and again, the result is unfair social, economic, and political systems that produce poverty.”[6]

In a fallen world like ours greed becomes king and poverty is the outfit of his subjects. Once again Ronald J. Sider gives an excellent observation on man made economic misery. “The examples of abused power are everywhere. Europeans were the first to apply gunpowder to warfare, using this enormous new power to colonize everybody else. They largely annihilated the native peoples of the Americas and forced millions of Africans into slavery.” [7] Those who went to conquer other nations never did it for common good; the motive was selfish, self seeking and the end result is the empowerment for the few and economic misery for many.

If every nation on earth will be allowed to govern itself without much outside political influence, the economic misery will be reduced to lower levels. Many nations on earth today are able to produce their own food and very few remaining countries only need assistance in modern land development in the agricultural sector. “There is plenty of food in the world today. Powerlessness, not famine, causes much of today’s poverty. “Fundamentally,” Bread for the World says, “hunger is a political question: hungry people lack the power to end their hunger. Many people today are poor and hungry largely because a few people with enormous power neglect and / or mistreat the powerless. Using their unequal power, they create structures that benefit themselves and oppress others.”[8]

Despite man’s efforts to eliminate poverty, “Hunger and starvation stalk our world. Famine and disease are alive and well on planet earth. Almost all of the 1.3 billion desperately poor people live in what used to be called the Third World. At this same time we see Communism and Capitalism systems trying to outdo each other; who will solve these economic problems”?[9] Poverty will not be eliminated because of hypocrisy in those who are creating it. Poverty is man made, a few people benefit from it out the poverty of many by creating structures that oppress others.

The magnitude of these problems can not be eliminated by gifts we give to the poor. It might help them for a day or two but their situation will linger on. As said before, the cause of the misery that confronts us can be linked to the institutions and systems which permit, or better, which encourage such great disparities of wealth that characterizes the contemporary world.

Many years ago two systems were implemented in many countries to manage their economies; these were communism and capitalism. Communism worked well for some time and then it had the flip side. “Communism’s rapid progress in the world and the improved economic status it has brought to some, however, Communism has been and remains unable to fulfill its promises of equality and freedom. In reality Communism, a form of atheistic materialism, ultimately degrades people because it separates them from God. Communism exalts man but enslaves the individual. Based on the principle of the importance of persons, Communism cannot satisfy man’s deepest needs and hunger or solve his fundamental economic problems.”[10] At this stage, we can all say Communism is not the best way to manage the world’s economy and alleviate poverty around the world.

Well, what about capitalism, and what is capitalism after all? Capitalism is, “An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.”[11]

If communism “separates man from God and exalts man but enslaves the individual” let us sum up the case of Christianity against Capitalism. “The distinctive characteristic of the capitalism system is that the industrial outfit of society is owned and controlled by a limited group, while the mass of the industrial workers is without ownership or power over the system within which they work. A small group of great wealth and power is set over against a large group of property less men.”[12] Here again, capitalism on it’s face value like communism, promises freedom but when applied it breeds corruption and distances many from a deeper fellowship with Christ. “Capitalism enables the greedy and cunning to set the pace for the rest, makes men immoral by fear, and puts the selfish impulses in control.”[13]

This is how capitalism is excised in many countries around the world. To illustrate the problem, this is what Ronald J. Sider had to say, “A large landowner in a poor village in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, in an attempt to increase agricultural output and reduce poverty, the World Bank financed an irrigation project in the rural village. The largest landowner in the area, however, was also active in the ruling political party, and he managed to gain control of the new irrigation project and get a monopoly on the new water supply. Naturally, the benefits of the new technology flowed to this powerful landowner, not to the poor. His agricultural output did expand, but this did not help the most needy.[14]

In the book of Acts Paul is quoted saying: “From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts17:26 NIV). This means that God gives life and determines that individual race, gender and where that soul will live, as He did to Adam and Eve. Every nation on earth has enough supply for her inhabitants if that wealth is well managed. If God puts one soul in a certain country, it is within God’s wisdom that, that same soul will live prosper in that same land. If the poor people in Bangladesh can not be allowed to benefit from their own land, where is their wealth going to come from? These are exploited men and women by a system that will never allow them to live a decent life in their own land. Not because their race is bad, and because their land is barren, but because a capitalist would rather send them to their graves early than to see them enjoy the fruit of their labor in a country that the good Lord has blessed them with.

Wealth is the test of a man’s character

Capitalism on the other hand is a very cunning system; it creates a scenario where you can’t see the wealth of other nations, the so called “poor nations” in fact are full and rich with natural and human resources on which capitalism is flourishing on. Its ideologies are name calling other nations; capitalists can shout so loud and open their mouth so wide that you can even see their brains. All this is done to blind fold the poor, they show how much money they have donated, as they display their good works, they put on the sheep’s clothes, but inside them, they are wolves, they are like David of Old Testament who would rather give his visitor the neighbors’ lamb than to give him from his abundance.

To a certain extent it will be difficult to find any godliness in capitalism. Its teaching seems to contradict the biblical teachings on acquisition of wealth. What can I compare capitalism to? To Luke’s gospel chapter 16:19-21, where a rich man lived his extravagant life while a poor man laid at his gate begging for food and never gave it a priority. “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores” (NASB). He didn’t care, because that was his wealth, and the only important person in the whole world was himself.

Capitalism promotes greed and can not serve the poor, in capitalism the wealthier you are, the stronger you become, and the more control you have. In the process of implementing capitalism the end results would be “few people” controlling the whole world; they play the music and every one dances. These individuals who promote capitalism are only found in certain countries, and they want to do business in every country of the earth. They promote private ownership, which they know the indigenous people can not go into because they don’t have the capital to invest. The capitalists then will take over the economies of those countries by employing the indigenous people to gather their own natural resources and ship to some foreign nations where these “investors” live. Many countries that have copper, oil, diamonds, and gold at their finger tips are so poor, and these same commodities are never found in their shops. Nations without this natural wealth that have investors have these commodities in abundance. This is why capitalism can not work for an average person. In this set up once poor, there’s a possibility that an individual will remain poor because the rich will fight to remain rich. The wealth of any nation must be enjoyed by the citizenry and not by another. Trade among nations must be done in a fair manner to benefit all, but this is not possible in a capitalistic environment. The economic and social system in which individuals can maximize profits because they own the commodity and not the means of production is not entertained.

Capitalism only seeks self at any cost. In Africa many political leaders are easily turned against their own people. National resources are rooted while the majority wallows in poverty. “Consider the case of President Mobutu, the fabulously wealthy ruler of Zaire from 1965-1997. During the 1960s and 70s, Belgium, France, and the U.S. sent cash and military forces to support Zaire’s dictator, because he was a valuable opponent of communism in a strategic location. The people of Zaire are desperately poor, 70 percent living in poverty. Meanwhile, there is good reason to believe that Mobutu stole $5 billion from the economy.”[15] If this man had so much money, where did he keep the money, which bank (s) invested this money when millions of Zairian died everyday? What were these powerful nations doing in Zaire, what relationship did they have with a dictator? He was a capitalist- made monster that impoverished his own people, by helping him stay in power while the capitalist roots the wealth.

In capitalism money is god, one needs more of it and without it life would be miserable. It brings unnecessary competitions; it enslaves workers and creates poverty of many souls worldwide. It only works well if one is selfish and blind to the cries of millions starving people the world over. It puffs up the flesh and can grab at will other people’s resources in the name of investment. It brings corruption because the rich are never in trouble, they work their way out of their troubles.

The Bible says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be there with content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1Tim 6:6-9).

Power itself is not evil. But as the famous British thinker Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” [16] Capitalism seeks to control everything even the church, the Bible warns us about treating people based on their economic status point of view. Treating the rich in this world as more important than the poor is not godly. (James2:2-6)

So can capitalism be saved? Saved to what? May be it can be “reformed.”

The wealth of this earth must be well organized and distributed to meet the needs of all inhabitants, nation by nation. From the Old to the New Testaments God has shown his displeasure on how the poor are treated. Even though it is difficult to find a system that will benefit all human beings, because of the fallen nature, we have to first test the motives of every system that we apply to safeguard the venerable. “The test of the economic institution or system is not the quality of goods but the quality of life it produces.”[17] “The only hope for lasting economic improvement is to be recruiting an increasing number of committed Christians who will honestly apply biblical ideas to economic life and practice.”[18] The Church must maintain their independence, refusing to become identified with any particular economic class, system or program.

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