The focus of this second article of the series on the Christian understanding and attitude towards both poverty and wealth is on poverty and its major causes. We already noted in the introductory article that our concentration in this series on material or indignant poverty. What are the common causes of poverty and why is it so wide spread around the world? What is the Christian take on the issue of poverty? Let us examine in brief in below. But first a summary of article one on background and definitions:
According to research done by John Stott, there are three major categories of poverty. These categories are the indignant or economically poor, the oppressed or powerless poor, and the humble or spiritual poor.
Economically speaking the indignant poor are those who lack the basic necessities of life, namely, food, shelter, clothing and basic health needs. They are sometime referred to as the destitute. We may refer to people who have more than the basic necessities of life such a television, a vehicle, a smartphone, washing machine, two or three decent meals a day and the like that make life a bit more comfortable but in comparison with the rich poor relatively. They do not have luxury goods and items in abundance as the rich have. The word poor is also employed in reference to the one deserving pity and sympathy. Like we would say, “Poor Flomo, he recently lost both his job and his wife”.
The oppressed poor, sociologically and politically speaking, are those whose rights are denied because of their race, tribe, religion, political affiliation or place of residence. They may have some material comforts but have no say in the decision making of the society they belong to. The spiritually poor are those who recognize and acknowledge their need and dependence on God. They do not confide solely in their own strength or any other human strength. Jesus calls them, “blessed are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:8). Our main concern in this series is with the materially poor.
The rich on the other hand are those who have material abundance. This again is relative in relation to a particular society and depending on whom one is comparing the rich to. It is the complete opposite of the poor. They have lot of money and property and can afford the comforts of life. Rich can be used in terms of interesting and variety. “The country has a rich history and culture”.
A study of Church history reveals that there has been and still is a variety of Christian views on poverty and wealth ranging from seeing material poverty as the way of the true Christian life to regarding wealth as the reward of genuine faith, from seeing poverty as a mark of true spirituality to regarding wealth as an offense or obstacle to faith. We shall explore these a bit more in subsequent articles. Suffice it to say at this stage that poverty and wealth do affect real lives and how we regard them matters very much.
Poverty is pervasive. What is responsible for its widespread? From a biblical perspective all the blame for poverty can be laid at the feet of sin. And sin, by the way, is any thought, word and deed that is contrary to God’s will. One form sin can take is laziness. Proverbs has a lot of warnings against laziness. Laziness is an indirect, slow but sure way of inviting poverty on oneself. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man” (Proverbs 6:6-11). Other aspects of sin are greed, drunkenness, gluttony, extravagance, mismanagement or abuse of resources, and failure to make adequate use of available resources and opportunities.
Some of these sinful ways are caused by bad governance and selfish policies and practices on both national and international levels. People are denied of their rights and opportunities to better themselves. Terrible injustices work against them from the crib to the grave. Both the individual themselves and society reduce them to appalling living conditions. Conversely, individuals and society must work in concerted efforts to reduce or eradicate extreme poverty. How? The next article will make some suggestions.