We Walk With Immortals
“For we are the temple of the living God…” (I Corinthians 6:16)
I went to a conference on Saturday called “Helping Without Hurting”, put on by the Chalmers Center for Economic Development, authors of “When Helping Hurts”. I went because I love those guys, love what they are doing and the way they are doing it. Where else in the world is there a collection of Ivy League PhDs who are theologically conservative, have huge hearts, and are wholly committed to poverty alleviation? I’m guessing nowhere. Their book basically provided the intellectual blueprint upon which Milo Group was formed and is being built. I am so thankful for them because without them I would likely still be wandering around with a crushing burden for God’s poor but little means of productively seeking to address it.
One thing struck me, though, as a way that we are different, though likely only with respect to point of emphasis rather than belief. They spoke, with great eloquence and truth, of the need for many of us who have grown up in mostly white suburbia, physically close but otherwise far removed from the crushing grip of poverty, to repent of the condescending, arrogant posture we have towards the poor. Because we are materialistic people, seeing the world in primarily materialistic terms, we naturally assume that because we have superior resources that we are superior in general. We need to repent of this sense of superiority and natural condescension and ask God to show us our own brokenness, our own poverty, and how in all the ways that really matter we are not superior at all…that in fact in many ways are inferior. In doing so, we will then be able to enjoy a peer relationship and a genuine partnership.
I don’t disagree with any of this – the truth of it is without reproach. The only thing I would do differently is take it one step further. In my experience, step 1 was definitely God breaking me, showing me my own poverty of mind and soul in profound ways, such that it became very difficult to see myself as better than anyone. He also broke me of my material view of life and the world and granted eyes to see it with broader vision. However, step 2 was even cooler, even more powerful. He gave me a very deep, soul-level appreciation for the extreme and infinite VALUE of EVERY person. He gave me eyes to see how truly precious each and every person I encounter is to the Creator of All Things. This changed everything. All of a sudden every encounter with a bank teller, drive thru attendant, Boston lawyer, was an interaction with an immortal, one made in the very image of God. Even better, through the supernatural work of His great gospel that I experienced in my own soul and started to see in others around me, He granted eyes to see not just what people were right then but what they COULD be. Now, when I meet with someone who is homeless, poor, beaten up by life, marked by suffering, my eyes are no longer bound by what is in front of me – rather, I see what that person could be, what they were made to be, what the gospel (expressed in both word and deed) could do in them. This is why, I think, it is not difficult for me to go into a homeless shelter, a poverty-stricken neighborhood, a housing project, and be at ease with the people with whom I speak and speak to them as peers, as people from whom I have much to learn and about whom there is much to appreciate. I think it is also why their stories are so important to me, and why it is worth turning my life upside down to find ways to help. These are precious children of the living God, no less precious to Him than my three beautiful children are to me, that are languishing in misery and hopelessness. Many of these are my brothers and sisters in faith, family with whom I will spend eternity. What do we think of people of who lavish riches on themselves while the rest of their family starves? God made it clear in Scripture what He thinks about them: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18).
Forgive us, Lord. Forgive me. May You continue to raise awareness in our souls of the great value of all of your people, and give us eyes to see each individual’s immortal and indescribable value…may You move us to better care for those You love so dearly.