By Amy Wiebe
Regardless of our political persuasions, I think we can all agree we live in a culture that leans toward the judgmental. How does this current climate affect us as followers of Christ, especially when we encounter those living in poverty?
In an effort to be less “judgmental,” some Christians have swung all the way to one extreme, taking a posture of broad tolerance in an effort never to judge anything or anyone. I think that’s taking it too far; God’s Word encourages us to identify right and wrong from his perspective. A whole other group of Christ followers has taken to judging everything and everyone. People, situations—all of it. Yet when it comes to wrongdoing, we are to view actions as wrong rather than people, the Bible is clear on this. As a parent, I’m careful to never tell one of my children they are a “bad girl” or a “bad boy.” They are good because our precious Father made them in his image. They do, however, make poor choices at times. So do some–not all–people who find themselves living in poverty, but this doesn’t make them bad people.
I believe judging those in poverty as lazy (or whatever label we might tend to apply) greatly grieves our God, who in both the Old and New Testaments consistently showed his love and grace to his people. I believe he offers the same love and grace to everyone today. But from the outside looking in, some Christians might say about those in financial need only, “Their own poor choices got them here,” with little grace or compassion. Or they might make statements like, “They should just get better jobs,” as if that’s always possible.
If you find yourself tempted to judge someone living in poverty, my challenge is simple: put a face and name to the person. It might make a difference.
Recently, God has placed some individuals in desperate financial need in my life. Our new friend—I’ll call him Richard—called us this week, weeping because he didn’t know how he was going to pay for his motel room. If only he and his fiancée stayed there, we might have made a different choice about helping. But they have two young boys who attend school with our daughters. Maybe Richard made some poor choices that contributed to his situation today, but I have made poor choices too. Maybe he would love to spend the money he’s spending at a motel on an apartment instead, but he doesn’t have the money for a security deposit. If I were in his place, maybe I’d try living in my car for a month to scrimp and save enough money for a deposit, but that’s easier said than done if you have two young boys to provide for. Richard has a job, but it’s new, as is his bank account. He has a check he can’t cash or deposit without a lengthy hold. This would be a mere inconvenience to me, but it’s a devastating setback to Richard.
Overcoming poverty has so many barriers. We must get into the mess with our neighbors in poverty and listen. We must absorb their stories, try to understand what they’re going through, and prayerfully consider how God might be asking us to meet their needs. In our case, we have a small church plant with limited funds. But we kicked this family’s desperation can four or five days down the road to give them more time to find another solution to get through the next week. And when we did that, we showed them a glimpse of Christ they may not have seen otherwise.
Of course, some individuals in financial distress do make poor choice after poor choice, perpetuating their desperate situations. But so many, like Richard, are trying their hardest to do what’s best for their families while hitting barrier after barrier. May we be the kind of Christ followers who get to know people, listen to their stories, and prayerfully assist in ways God would lead us, with the goal of being salt and light to those in need.
Amy Wiebe is a Jesus follower, wife, mom of three, church planter, finance director, and lover of sarcasm and deep conversation with friends. She also loves camping, rafting, skiing, sewing, and having people over. Amy blogs with her husband at fringechurch.com.
Photograph © Sean Stratton, used with permission