Though the comment string degenerated as expected—and the ending comments strayed from the original link—my friend challenged me to think about government assistance in a new light. Here are a few of the comments which went back and forth between the two of us:
Him: Why should we ever assume that the government is not part of God's strategy to provide help to the poor?
Me: I assume that God intended for the church to do this, as opposed to a government, because His desire is that all people be saved. A government doesn't minister to people in Jesus’ name. A government doesn't feed people in Jesus’ name. A government doesn't clothe people in Jesus’ name. And if people can get their physical needs met apart from Jesus, they will not get their spiritual need met. They can gain the whole world and lose their soul.
Him: I do agree with you that it is the church’s job to take care of the poor. But the reality is that we haven’t done it. Period. No excuses, no “what-ifs”, no “should-haves” – we have dropped the ball. So it has fallen to the government, to a great degree, to take care of the poor, needy, disenfranchised, neglected and forgotten of our nation. That’s the way it is, and we have to work with it.
Me: You didn't ask if the church had done their job properly. Your question was, "Why should we ever assume that the government is not part of God's strategy to provide help to the poor?" Do you think God looks at the welfare program and smiles? I don't. I think He looks at it and His heart breaks. Is not my heart to break for the things which break His?
Him: That's an interesting question. Let's look at the parable of the Good Samaritan. The lesson to be learned is not that God is disappointed in the church (priest and Levite) for not helping the man. Sure, it's a challenge to the church to step up, but it's also an admonition to see and accept the "outsider" and be thankful for his service. Does God's heart break that the church dropped the ball? Maybe - but no more so than when I mess up. And it is all viewed through the blood. I heartily believe that God is pleased that the hungry are being fed. The naked are being clothed. The sick are being cared for. No matter WHO is doing it. And I believe that pleasure far outweighs any disappointment.
One of the other commenters basically said it is our Christian duty to vote for those who support government programs which assist the needy because of how the poor and disenfranchised will view Christians in general.
I pondered these thoughts for a couple of days. Since the comment string turned into something of a bloodbath, my friend put an end to it while I was still contemplating. After two days of tossing this around, I am still not sure where I stand. But here’s more to think about.
Is God really pleased that the poor are being cared for no matter who is doing it? I just have trouble with that. One of the reasons God hates idolatry is because He created us to be His image bearer. We—the church, the called ones— are to be His hands and feet, to show the world what God looks like and how He acts. If we abdicate this responsibility, are we not setting up the replacement as an idol, as something less than what God intended? Is it possible that the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan figured they could walk by the person in need because there was a government program in place to care for beat up travelers? I know I’m guilty of thinking that way. “Good thing there’s a homeless shelter. Hope that guy gets there because he sure looks like a mess.”
I think it is vitally important that we disagree within Christian circles. It’s exactly this kind of debate which takes us out of our comfortable theology and makes us dig deeper. But while I think THAT we disagree is important, HOW we disagree is imperative. They shall know we are Christians by our love.
Until next time,Becca