Who Qualifies for Charity?
On a recent Saturday morning, I was waiting to pick up my son John from a musical practice at church, so I decided to walk around the building for some exercise. While walking, I encountered a man knocking on the front door of the building.
Allow me to describe him to give you a better context of my experience. “Bill” (a pseudonym to protect his identity) is a healthy, white male about 50 years old. He was visibly angry, agitated and seemed ready to explode. Although I was a little frightened by his demeanor, I told him the staff had the day off and politely asked if I could help him.
Bill, who does not have any apparent mental challenges, began ranting about the evil of living in America. He said the country no longer cared for the poor, that everyone was cold and cruel and that even the “church” was not any different. He said he was hungry, had walked six miles to get to a location where he normally had good success asking for money but was tired and did not want to walk another step. He put a large dip of snuff in his mouth and began to tell me of his aches, pains, rejection and bitterness towards “Christians” and “Americans” who just don’t care anymore.
I calmly told him that I would help him. Apparently either my offer to help or the snuff had a positive effect on his attitude—he stopped spewing his anger. About that time my 13-year-old son, John, appeared, signaling it was time to go home. To his surprise, I introduced John to Bill and said the man was going to be riding with us.
We drove Bill to a nearby store. I gave him cash to buy food and waited for him outside. In just a few moments he returned and we proceeded to his desired destination. As we talked, I learned a lot about Bill and so did my son John.
It turns out that Bill is not homeless. In fact, he lives in a hotel. He is also a Christian. It was also obvious that he is intelligent. He told us he was born out of wedlock and has no communication with members of his family. We also learned that he works “about three days a week” when he can find temporary employment, typically doing construction, changing tires on forklifts and other odd jobs as they come available.
Although perfectly able, I got the impression that Bill only works whenever he feels like it or as long as he is able to get along with bosses and co-workers—which severely limits him. His bitter attitude permeates his demeanor.
When we arrived at Bill’s hotel, I surprised him with some additional information.
“Bill, do you know why I bought you food today and drove you back home?”
“No,” he replied.
He was sitting in the backseat of my car when I turned and said, “Bill, I helped you today because I know you.” He didn’t respond and only looked confused.
“Do you remember that I’ve helped you before? You were by our offices asking for help a few months ago. I gave you money then, too.”
He was completely unaware that this was my second encounter with him at an entirely different location.
Bill did not say anything; he just looked at me as I continued.
“Bill, I am a Christian; I go to the church where you were knocking on the door, and I am an American. I hope you see that God has many people who actually do help you.”
Bill began to get out of the car. As he thanked me for the food and the ride, I had one more final thought to share with him.
“Bill, I can help you on occasion, but not over and over again. The next time you ask me for help, I want to help you get a job.”
There was only silence from Bill.
He got out of the car and headed back to his hotel room. All around him were places where he could potentially find work, but it was obvious Bill did not want that kind of help.
Government as Our Provider
In August 2011, the number of people in the U.S. relying on food stamps hit 45.8 million—nearly 15% of the population. Food stamp rolls have risen 8.1% in the past year, the Department of Agriculture reports, though the pace of growth has slowed from the depths of the recession1.
In 2010, the American labor force was made up of approximately 154 million people. That means that for nearly every three workers, we have one person on food stamps—a shocking statistic. Compare the growth of this program from 1969 to 2010 in the chart2 below:
After Bill left my car, John and I had a long talk on the way home. First, I thanked him for his great attitude during the experience with Bill. John had handled himself with love and composure.
We also talked about the importance of work and the devastation that it brings to our lives when we are able—but do not—work. We discussed the crippling effect of an attitude that expects someone else to provide for our needs. We also talked about the verse that came to mind as we considered Bill’s future.
“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: if anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
Paul is not being cruel or heartless in this passage. He is expressing a truth that those who are able but unwilling to work should be disqualified from receiving charitable help, thereby allowing their natural need for food to drive their effort to work. This is a profound and often overlooked financial principle.
The Bible is very specific about who should and who should not receive charity. This verse also implies that the recipient of the charity should be known by the ones administering the help, those who can provide love, accountability and wisdom, in addition to the financial resources.
This is just one of the many reasons that I don’t believe the Bible supports the position that government be the provider and caretaker of the poor. As with all public policy, if we fail to follow God’s direction, we end up with problems for everyone. That’s why we now have a system of dependence on government for perpetual welfare in many forms that is unsustainable. All the while, many are demanding even more government handouts of one sort or another.
As a friend of mine noted, “Government programs today are into making people comfortable in their poverty instead of helping them get out of their condition.”
Are we—the Church—to love our neighbor and help the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor, the prisoner, widows and orphans and those who are sick? Yes.
Are we to do all we can to help those who have lost jobs but are able and willing to get back to work? Yes.
Does that mean we demand that the government use a misguided Robin Hood method to take from the rich to give to the poor?
Not according to the Bible.
What do you think? Please leave your comments below!