I’m taking a little spring break from blogging this week and reposting some oldies. This post, from August of 2008, is especially appropriate in light of last week’s discussion about Glenn Beck’s controversial comments. (See also Scot McKnight’s fantastic post on the subject.)
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote the following in an open letter to the early church: “…Weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you…[Your sin] will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire.” Was he referring to a) homosexuality, b) abortion, or c) excessive wealth?
The answer is c.
When the Prophet Ezekiel describes why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, does he cite the cities’ a) sexual promiscuity, b) abortion record, or c) excessive wealth/neglect of the poor?
The answer, again, is c. In Ezekiel 16:49, the prophet quotes God as saying: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them, when I saw it.” (emphasis mine)
In his letter to Timothy, Paul urged his young protégé to “flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness…” Was Paul warning against a) homosexuality, b) pornography, or c) wealth?
The answer is c. Paul writes, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare, and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. Flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness…” (I Timothy 6:9-11)
I highlighted the passages above to show how the Bible consistently employs strong language to describe the potential dangers of wealth, and to condemn the neglect of the poor. The “fire and brimstone” tones so often used by evangelicals to judge homosexuality or abortion are actually more commonly used in the Bible to judge excessive wealth and injustice toward the needy…sins that perhaps hit a little too close to home.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been warned of God’s impending judgment on America in response to gay marriage and abortion. Attend just about any church event billed as “a time of prayer and fasting for our nation” and the focus will be on these hot-button issues. However, a more serious look at Scripture reveals that the most consistent criteria regarding God’s judgment of nations is how those nations treat the poor.
For example, the prophet Amos tried desperately to warn that the northern kingdom of Israel would be destroyed. Why was God going to allow this to happen? Writes Amos, “Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the stall…Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away.” (Amos 6:4, 7) In Israel, Amos described a kingdom in which the rich “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth.” (Amos 2:7)
Isaiah too warned that destruction would befall Judah because of its mistreatment of the poor: “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees…to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right…What will you do on the day of punishment, in the calamity that will come from far away?” (Isaiah 10:1-3)
Jeremiah also condemned the wealthy who had amassed riches at the expense of the poor. He writes,“They have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek. They know no bounds in deeds of wickedness; they judge not with justice the cause of the fatherless, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. ‘Shall I not punish them for these things?’ says the Lord, ‘and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?’” (Jeremiah 5:26-29)
Even at the ultimate judgment, Jesus makes the standard for judging the nations quite clear:
“I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)
And what fate befalls those nations who do differently?
“Depart from Me accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”
So I guess the question is, how does the U.S. stack up? No one would dispute that we are a wealthy nation. But how do we treat the needy among us? And how do we respond to the incredible poverty around the world?