Faithful Politics

Being faithful with our politics, not political with our faith.

Beyond Government: A Christian Response to Global Disaster

Things seem crazy in the world around us.  Disasters, revolutions, and crises are practically becoming part of everyday life.  In response to those events, there are calls to action from all sides – seeking restoration, support, political allies, and everything in between.  As Christians, we are called to empathize with the needy and stand up “for the rights of all who are destitute” (Proverbs 31:8).  And we ought to feel driven to do so.  Yet the way we, as Christians, often respond is amiss.

Some of the events making headlines can be attributed to the Fall, as the natural world has been submitted to “frustration” due to sin on earth (Gen. 3, Rom. 8:18-22).  But though under the jurisdiction of the Fall, God knit other principles into the world that reward teamwork, entrepreneurship, and responsibility.  However, as humans, the people of God are often drawn toward ideas of worldly wisdom rather than God’s design.  For example, in 1 Samuel 8, Israel faced opposing kingdoms all around them, and so they opted to install their own kingdom (i.e. government) to provide for their needs rather than follow the only true Provider.

But what does this all have to do with helping when disaster strikes?  Our infatuation with our own systems of design has continued to today, and the apparatus of government has grown to address an extremely broad set of social tasks, including those that God designated as primary functions of the Church.  To many, including believers, domestic and international crises and tragedies instinctively fall into the realm where government involvement is allowed or even advocated.

While well-intentioned, this is flawed for two reasons.  Firstly, theoretical and empirical studies indicate that government solutions may not be as sufficient or efficient as intentional and organized private action.  Secondly (and more importantly), employing government to fulfill our earthly mission is a dereliction of the spiritual duties to which we’ve been called.

Government responses are rigid and impersonal, leaving many victims not only neglected but also overlooked.  While broad strokes are helpful in certain situations, the government option is most often chosen simply because it’s the easiest.  When we feel that someone else is taking the responsibility, we let ourselves off the hook.  This is quite evident in the relationship between government funding and private giving for charities, as studies have found that government funding crowds out as much as 53 cents of every dollar of private funding.

Solomon, in his God-given wisdom, noted that while there may be no mal-intentions, inadequacy and bureaucratic stagnation are the nature of government (Ecc. 5:8).  Government is big, and problems – even huge problems like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan – occur on the micro-level, among individual people and families.

Nevertheless, it sounds cold-hearted to suggest that the needy and endangered be abandoned.  Fortunately, this is not at all what Christians should do.  Rather, we ought to unite as a community and respond to needs with compassion, attentiveness, and charity – embodying the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23)

The extent of natural catastrophes may causes individuals to retreat, feeling insignificant next to the overshadowing problems before them.  But this is where God can be big, real BIG.  David could have felt utterly useless before Goliath, but he allowed himself to be used by God – to not only win a war but to provide an example still used thousands of years later.  We are called to submit to God, and to take action in steps of faith.

The Church in Acts provides a great example of this.  Though facing hardships and persecutions of their own, Christians provided for one another.  They did not rely on the government or the established organization of the synagogue to address social ills around them.  In fact, the Apostles set up an internal structure to feed and clothe the poor and helpless (Acts 6:1-7).  The Apostle Paul went further, calling for believers to act independently and not burden the church body with something we have the means to address on our own (1 Tim. 5:16).  In doing so, the Message spread – by word and deed.

The Church functions as a better unit to supply for the needy, but that’s not the only reason we are called to respond with the Body rather than a government.  The Church is the structure to which we are to submit ourselves for God to work in and through us.

Specifically relating to the current situation in Japan – which has killed at least 5,700, stranded thousands more, and left the country in panic-mode due to fears of nuclear meltdown – let us consider a few things.  First, Japanese culture is highly respectful, loyal, and extremely non-Christian (less than 1%).  Second, imagine the effect if believers gave until it hurt (perhaps a week of vacation to go volunteer, or half a month’s pay to allow local churches to provide assistance).  Would not the Japanese people be more responsive to that than to impersonal, misallocated government handouts?  And couldn’t God multiply that response by 10-, 60-, or 100-fold if we were faithful to His calling?

Compassion and stewardship are themes heavily stressed in the Bible (e.g. Acts 4, Eph. 4, Matt. 25:14-30), and they hold much merit in application, even in the non-Christian world around us.  Peter ties the two together when he writes that to “serve” others with whatever gifts we’ve received is the mark of “faithful stewards” (1 Pet. 4:10).

This principle applies much further than to international catastrophes alone.  If we face any opportunity to grow our faith, aid the distressed, and witness to others by stepping up to the challenge and ceasing our passive, let-Uncle-Sam-do-it attitude, we ought to seize it whenever we can.

When the urge comes to address the myriad problems around us with the readily-accessible arm of the state, let us remember that not only is that inefficient and potentially irresponsible, it also deprives us from the life of joy that God has in store when we open up our own arms instead.

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