I'm tired of so many people's equating tax-funded welfare and social programs with the sort of compassion that Jesus espoused. If Jesus had wanted to set up giant, faceless government programs dedicated to alleviating human suffering in the most disconnected, non-accountable way possible, then He could have easily taken over the governments of men 2000 years ago and set up a socialist paradise. In fact, that sort of thing was one of the temptations of the Devil. Jesus did not have to walk the earth, from town to town, touching the untouchable, loving the unlovable, helping the hopeless, but He did. And He called the hearts of the seeking the world over to follow His example and reach out in person to the hurting. Nowadays, too much "giving" is antiseptically applied at the tax office. It is not giving if it is forced. It is not virtuous if it is extracted at the point of a gun (when you talk about government force, that is always what it comes down to) and distributed at the hands of a bureaucracy. It is not compassionate if it involves compulsion.
So, I really do not understand the point of the protesters in Washington, D.C. a few days ago. The so-called "religious left" was out en masse (about 200 people) to object to planned federal budget cuts to welfare programs, student loans, etc. First of all: religious left and religious right. Huh? So, either Jesus wants lives enslaved by taxation and ended by abortion, or Jesus wants freedoms abridged in the name of "national security" and lives ended by war. Stop trying to make Him conform to your political persuasions! He is neither a Democrat, nor is He a Republican. He is Lord of Life and Redeemer of Man -- just deal with it! I hate it when sinful man puts on the cloak of righteousness and attempts to divine the will of God outside of what has been revealed in the Word and bend Him toward political ends. So, anyway, a bunch of lefties spouting their weenie whines in the name of the Most High gathered outside a House office building and complained about government goodies going the way of the Dodo. Oh, if only it were so!
Government should not be in the business of alleviating individual human suffering. Hello, commies! That's your job in the churches and synagogues and mosques and temples! Do your job, and shut up. Want poor kids to go to college? Set up your own grants and scholarships! Want the unfortunate to be fed, clothed, visited in prison? I think that Jesus has made it very clear who will be held accountable for those things on the Day of Judgement. Want affordable housing? Goodness gracious -- build some dorms onto your houses of worship to help out congregants in times of need! And, yes, when people need help, let them know who is truly good -- your Father in heaven who leads your heart to show His love.
If you offer a man bread and do not share with him the gospel of the Bread of Life, then you have done nothing worthwhile. One of the truly reprehensible things about the Church's avoiding its social responsibilites and sloughing them off on government is that the only element that can truly improve people's lives is left out of the help given. What people need most is Christian compassion, then material help. Sometimes a listening ear, a hand upon a shoulder, an eye gazing with sympathy into another, a good conversation is more needed than a crust of bread or a cup of water. The government just cannot do that. The poor, the most needy, become statistics, numbers on a soulless dole, but I can assure you that Jesus knows their every name, and counts their every tear of frustration and hopelessness. We faithful should rejoice in welfare cuts and encourage the government to do less and less, then take cheerfully upon ourselves the yoke of compassion that is our birthright as believers.
I think too, that the great crime of the welfare state is that it has eliminated the bond between givers and recipients. Now, social workers sit in judgement of the needy, glorify in implementing collectivist reforms on individual lives, and distribute with great condescension money that is not their own. This disconnect is so harmful, because gratitude is important. If there were no gratitude, a recognition of a gift given in grace and not deserved, then there would be no salvation. Can you imagine if the government set up an Office of Salvation, wherein every soul was guaranteed admission to the Kingdom as a right? There would be no bond between the Giver and the recipients, and that salvation would mean nothing. Nothing. And that is why government "charity" (not really charity, because the government has nothing of its own to give) means nothing in real terms. The bigger the government's role in alleviating suffering has gotten, the worse the effect for those on whom this largesse falls.
So, what is the way for those who try to live by the gospel of love to respond to the very real problem of human suffering in poverty? Well, for a Christian, the best way is always to look to the Lord. When He walked among men, He walked. He put Himself out there, in the midst of disease, disfigurement, heartbreak, hunger, depression and despair. He touched as many as He could, literally touching them. He sent forth those in His name to do the same. He did not glamorize poverty nor degrade those who were poor. Poverty and riches were alike to Him -- all bound in the chains of sin. He did not give anyone money, but He encouraged those who loved Him to give what they had. He gave Himself, and in doing that He gave hope and joy. He did not want poverty or riches to stand in the way of any man's following Him. His very presence caused those filled with greed to become generous. His only encounter with government, as far as I see, was when the government put Him to death.
One of the speakers at the protest tried to paraphrase Christ's admonishment to bolster his position. This is quoted from memory of what I heard on the radio, and I believe it to be accurate. "Someday this nation will stand in judgement of the Lord and He will say: I was hungry and you took away my food stamps. I was thirsty and you took away my Pell grants ..." Uh-huh. Well, nations are judged on earth, but I've always believed that individuals will stand before the Judgement Seat. And when we do, how many Christians who turned their responsibility toward their fellow man over to Uncle Sam will hear: I was hungry, and you clamored for food stamps, but denied me the Bread of Life. I was thirsty, and you bitched about trace minerals in the water, but did not give me Living Water. I was in prison, and you gave me television and a workout room, but let me stay bound by sin. We must do all these things: we must feed the hungry; we must quench the thirsty; we must heal the wounded and sick; we must treat humanely the prisoner and give him hope and mercy; we must clothe the naked; and, above all, we must live by the law of love. Could the Church even look upon His back nowadays, let alone see the glory of His face? Goodness knows, I need to do more to escape His remonstration, but I will never deny that it is my responsibility and mine alone to make a difference for Christ in this world. You will never see me trying to weasel my own accountability onto the government of men.
Ask and ye shall receive, knock and the door shall be opened. The moment is now. The privilege is ours. We have an example in Him that cannot be dismissed. He will not force you to follow Him, but if you do, you will feed His lambs and tend His sheep. And in His freedom and grace -- not at the point of a gun -- you will find true compassion. The joy of giving cannot be learned under compulsion nor hidden away in an IRS form. May we give because we have been given much.