Mind the Gap

The human being is marvelously adaptive. Raise a child in a concrete and corrugated tin shed in the midst of a slum community with limited access to housing, education and employment, and it is possible for her to grow up with some semblance of self respect, dignity and godliness.

Or, raise a baby in an atmosphere of affluence, in the presence of any conceivable luxury, and it is very possible for him to grow into a young man who has a healthy sense of his need of God and respect for those who have less. The Bible is filled with examples of well adjusted rich and poor alike. My own measurement of poverty and wealth is a bit challenging simply because of my own experiences in middle class America. What seems desperately poor or filthy rich is relative to my own life. I am not so sure I am able to discern excess or scarcity in the way that God does.

That's not to say that I don't believe there are forms of poverty or wealth that are evil (I have seen intractable poverty as well as stomach turning opulence, both designed in Hell to bread despair or dangerous self-sufficiency). I am simply saying that my own sense of neediness or luxury may not be God's. His design for us was to live in sufficiency - having our daily bread, neither so much as to make us feel invincible, nor so little as to force us to steal. What is offensive to him today is not so much the existence of wealth or poverty but the co-existence of them.

During the reign of the Judges of Israel (sometime before 1000 BC) archaeologists have noted that most Palestinian structures were roughly the same size. This was the period where God's economic laws outlined in Deuteronomy and Leviticus may have been at least partially in operation. When you get into the period of the kings, ancient digs reveal the existence of a few palatial homes and many small densely arranged structures. Prophets emerge during this period decrying the oppressive treatment of the poor by those in power. A minority of people living in affluence while a majority of society subsists in deprivation is the sort of situation which I believe stirs the righteous anger of our Creator. The existence of a growing rich-poor gap often indicates that a few are growing their wealth at the expense of many.

Although overall poverty in many places on the planet is coming down, the gap between rich and poor, both in this country and in many other countries, continues to climb to record highs. Recently I went to this website and discovered that some of my retirement money was contributing to the rich-poor gap. Here's how. US companies are barred from investing in Darfur, so Vanguard invests some of it's funds in foreign companies like PetroChina. This company has paid the Sudanese government for the right to drill for oil. The government of Sudan uses their investment money to pay the militia to go raiding in Darfur. Then they can clear a path for PetroChina to exploit the oil reserves underneath. That's how my retirement wealth comes at the expense of Darfurian refugees (I quickly divested).

Isaiah 3 speaks of the plunder of the poor being in the homes of Israel's leaders. The rich-poor gap belies the fact that there is a plundering underway. It is this plundering gap which I believe is the true evil of poverty in our time.

"Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD ?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God." Prov. 30:8-9

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