I’ve been writing a little about the cost of living crisis and how Christians and churches should respond. We often feel reluctant to talk about such things for two reasons. First, we are wary of leaping into party politics – I think there is good sense to that. Secondly, because we are not quite sure where these things fit in terms of priorities. When Christians like Tim Keller and others do talk about issues around social justice, poverty, the environment, racism, they are often accused of preaching a diluted or other gospel – a social gospel.
I think that this is to miss the point. It is of course possible to get into a social gospel and liberation theology and seek other priorities. However, a focus on the true Gospel should raise our attention to things like racism, destruction of the environment and poverty. Why? Well because poverty and these other problems are a consequence of the Fall and therefore to do with sin.
Here are the ways in which poverty and hardship are a consequence of the Fall.
- Because the Fall means that we live in a world where there is suffering. There was meant to be an abundance of provision in God’s good creation. Now, we find that we lack things and there is toil and struggle to meet needs. We look forward to the new creation where there will no longer be poverty.
- The sin of greed and exploitation. The original creation mandate to fill and subdue the world has been subverted for evil. We find ways to exercise power over others and to consume from them. Some people are poor because others grow rich at their expense, enslaving them or paying them poorly. Others are poor because their rulers heavily tax them. Others find themselves in hardship because consumerist greed causes inflation as prices go up.
- The sin of selfishness. This is linked to the former but is slightly different. It’s not that I seek to exploit others. However, I seek my own comfort and that means I’m unwilling to share with others.
- The sin of laziness. We must not forget that some people do bring hardship on themselves by the decisions they make. This may include an outright refusal to work, or failure to work to the standards expected leading to dismissal. It also includes how people get trapped in debt due to seeking to acquire prosperity through short cuts including excessive borrowing and gambling.
It is also helpful to think then in terms of individual sin and, as with other social justice issues, about idolatry. I find the category of”idolatry” helpful when we get into discussions about collective experience and structural/systemic issues (as with racism). A society will be affected by what it collectively worships. We become like our idols. Societies for example where there is an over emphasis on individualism and materialism will experience particular forms and of poverty which is not to say that collectivist societies will avoid the problem of poverty but rather that the problem may be expressed and experienced in different ways.
If poverty then is a sin issue, it is also something we should speak about as a Gospel issue. We should be speaking up and speaking out when we see greed, selfishness, exploitation and laziness at work destroying lives, families and communities.
Of course, we are then reminded that whilst there are things we can do to alleviate poverty now, that it is only through the Gospel that people can experience true hope and freedom. It’s only with Christ’s return that we’ll see poverty made history.