Must I be carried to the skies on flow’ry beds of ease?
…Is this vile world a friend to grace to help me on to God?
With a thank you and an apology to Isaac Watts, I have lifted two lines from his hymn, Am I Soldier of the Cross? I deliberately juxtaposed these two lines to make a point.
Last week I tried to pull back the curtains just a little to encourage each of us to be more aware of Christians around our world who face persecution. This week, let’s pull back the curtains again to consider another potential blind spot. Unlike persecution occurring in distant places, this threat is all around us—inundating us with propaganda 24/7.
I believe the term “blind spot” is appropriate because it’s difficult to be unaware of the problem. Graphic pictures of hungry children and epidemics around the world appear on television news and the appeal letters from relief organizations.
Even so, as deplorable as these circumstances are, I believe the words from Isaac Watts’ hymn reveals a deeper problem. Note that the lines are actually questions—questions as relevant today as in 1721 when the hymn was penned.
Here is my attempt to answer those two questions.
No, it is not fair or equitable if I bask in luxury in the presence of suffering and hunger. This world, our current culture, is no “friend of grace.” Not by a long shot.
I am troubled when I discover blind spots in some of peers of Isaac Watts. For example, while reading The Essential Jonathan Edwards, I discovered that this great theologian and biblical scholar credited with the Great Awakening, like most of his peers, owned slaves. Recently, I also discovered that George Whitefield—the most influential Christian evangelist in the 18th Century—after being given a plantation, “converted” from denouncing slavery to supporting slavery. His reasoning? He felt slaves were needed to manage the plantation and, after all, the plantation helped support his orphanage ministry. Whitefield is also credited for helping change Georgia’s original ban against slavery.
If renowned Christian leaders like Whitefield and Edwards were influenced by their culture, would it be such a stretch to say that we can also be influenced by today’s culture? Could it be that we’ve been conditioned to accept the status quo as “normal” and “fair,” when it really isn’t?
In response, I offer Paul’s instructions in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 (esv):
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (emphasis mine)
Christians in Corinth were aware that the church in Jerusalem was facing famine-like conditions. Several churches in Asia Minor and Greece had stepped forward to send money to assist their hungry brothers and sisters. The Corinthian believers had also signed on to participate in the fundraising, but as time passed the sense of urgency faded. As a result, no offerings had been taken. Twice in the above passage, Paul uses a specific word to motivate the Corinthians to step up to the plate. The English Standard Version translates the word as fairness. Other translations use the term equality. Eugene Peterson in The Message summarizes the passage, “In the end you come out even.”
I prefer the word equitable.
Paul wasn’t the only biblical writer to call for fairness or justice. Several Old Testament prophets also called for equity. Perhaps Amos was the most outspoken. In his day wealthy Israelites enjoyed lavish homes and rich food while widows and orphans were neglected.
Times really haven’t changed all that much, have they?
So what is Paul asking the church in Corinth (and us) to do? Are we to give away everything to feed the hungry? Soon we would all be hungry. Are we to make certain every person in the world, especially other Christians, enjoy the same amenities we enjoy? Should my Ugandan friend Kato have the same balance in his savings account (if he had one) as me? Should I sell one of my vehicles so he can have a car? In other words, must everything be precisely equal?
Absurd! Kato make $40 a month as a teacher, assuming he gets paid each month. Depositing half of our savings account into an account for Kato or giving him a car would probably hurt him more than help him. The cultures in Bend, Oregon and western Uganda are worlds apart, and not just geographically. Trying to make everything absolutely equal would be global socialism; that hasn’t worked in Venezuela or anywhere else.
After having Kato as a student on my first trip to Uganda, we began to communicate via email. Yes, almost everyone has a cell phone and access to a computer today. I discovered Kato’s children were often forced to drop out of school for lack of funds since education is not free in Uganda. If his children have any hope of breaking out of poverty, they need to finish school. Mary and I began sending money via Western Union to cover their tuition.
Honestly, it hasn’t been that much of a burden. And no one can put a price tag on the joy we experience as we receive reports after each grading period. I could easily spend more money at Starbucks than the cost of tuition for each child. When Kato and his wife had a baby, they named him Sydney. Children in Uganda are traditionally named after relatives, not Americans.
On my second ministry trip, I visited Kato’s home where his wife had prepared dinner and invited relatives to celebrate our arrival. We discovered there were no doors on his home. When I mentioned this to Kato he affirmed that sometimes “unsafe serpents” entered the house at night. That shouts “Black Mamba” to me!
When a friend of ours heard this story she volunteered to provide doors for Kato’s home. She doesn’t even know Kato, but I suspect she has received as much satisfaction as Kato when he closes the doors each night to protect his family. His home has dirt floors with blankets as room dividers and will never be equal to our home in Bend. Should we sell our home and build a house out of handmade bricks with a dirt floor? It wouldn’t pass zoning! Our homes will never be equal, but we are striving for fairness and equality.
That being said, I don’t write to create a guilt trip on anybody. That’s not the purpose of our conversations on the Front Porch Swing. I am simply encouraging each one of us to pull back the curtain a little and catch a wider perspective. It’s way too easy for all of us to become comfortable with our status quo and assume this is norm.
I share a few thoughts for your consideration:
First: Pray. Pray for eyes to see those less fortunate. Pray for wisdom to know how to respond.
Second: Open the curtain. Subscribe to periodicals and electronic news releases from Christian ministries such as Open Doors, The Voice of the Martyrs or Samaritan’s Purse.
Third: Invest. That is a biblical term. Didn’t Jesus challenge us to lay up treasures in heaven, investing in eternal things? By any reading, the distinction between sheep and goats in the gospels is based on compassionate sharing with those in need.
Fourth: Establish relationships. If possible, establish a personal contact with the person or people you want to help. If it’s appropriate, try to visit your new friend in person. Some Christian ministries can be of assistance with this.
I close with this vision: Imagine a world where little children receive the inoculations and meds to prevent so many diseases carried by mosquitoes. Imagine the joy of people finally drinking clean water from a local well. Might it taste even better than a latte or mocha to us? Wouldn’t that be good?
It just seems fair, doesn’t it?