Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When Helping Hurts Part 3: The Grand Narrative

So far in this series, I've been discussing the basic principles of the book "When Helping Hurts." In it I have asked about our definition of poverty and suggested that our commonly assumed material definition of poverty is incomplete and that a full diagnosis of the problem is necessary before we embark on alleviation efforts.

Sorry, I couldn't resist the picture. Too good. As you'll read on I think its safe to say, that is not what God's plan of redemption looks like.

Today, how did it get this way? Our world is broken, selfish, and wracked with evil (For proof, see LRA or the depths of one's own heart).

The simplest explanation is a grand narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. These three acts play out in four key relationships: our relationship with God, with others, with our self, and with the rest of creation.

So here's the story. In the beginning, God, an inherently relational being, created humanity in his own image and created each of these relationships.

And it was good. And it was very good.

Humankind's relationship with God, our primary relationship, was perfect. Humans had perfect relationship with others never erring in the task of loving one another. Humans had a perfect relationship with self, there was not a hint of shame or insecurity or feelings of worthlessness. And humans had a perfect relationship with the rest of creation as stewards and caretakers of the world around us.

But, act two sees the plot thicken. Humans choose to ditch these perfect relationships and pursue our own fulfillment, our own satisfaction, and our own ways. We doubt that this God is really as good as He says He is and head our own direction.

This is not how it is supposed to be and each of these relationships are broken. With God, with others, with self, and with creation.

Poverty enters the world in each of these four relationships. Poverty of spiritual intimacy. Poverty of community. Poverty of being. Poverty of stewardship.

Of which, the conclusion can be made that "poverty (material and otherwise) is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings."

Further this means that poverty is not merely a problem for the material poor. We are all broken, all of creation is broken and this brokenness takes many forms.

Briefly, how might we see this play out in the four relationships for a lower class or a middle class person?

Broken relationship with God for the lower class individual may lead to denying God's existence, while for the middle class person this brokenness will often manifest it self in materialism, the replacement of God with money, possessions, and ownership.

Broken community in material poverty looks like physical fighting, broken community in the middle class is gossip, the silent treatment, and unspoken bitterness.

Broken relationship with self for the poor means hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness for the rich it means pride and promotion of self.

Finally, our broken relationship with creation is easily seen in work where purposeless, laziness, and workaholism all stem from the same broken relationship.

What this means is that, biblically, we are all in poverty. And each of these relationships interacts with the others to deepen and perpetuate our own poverty and that of others.

Knowing this leads to a key observation, "until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good." Without an attitude that says "I am not OK, and you are not OK, but Jesus can fix us both" all our efforts will increase (!) the poverty of being of both the materially poor and materially non-poor (one through sinful feelings of superiority and knowledge, the other through feelings of inferiority and shame).

Those who seek to alleviate poverty must shed their "tendency toward a Western, materialistic perspective on the nature of poverty" and replace it with a relational view of poverty that acknowledges mutual brokenness and need for redemption.

Speaking of redemption, I need to finish the story! Because the story does not end with brokenness! The story ends with restoration of that which God originally created. With a return to a perfect relationship with God. A return to a perfect relationship with others. And a return to a perfect relationship with self and creation.

The God who created this world is not satisfied to see it torn apart, his desire is for its redemption and restoration, so he takes action to bring this about. His Son enters the world in the most humble of circumstances, lives a perfect life, and dies as a substitution for the very people who have turned and rejected God (Phil 2:6-10; Rom 5:8; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 2:8-10). And His offer is one of Grace, a free offer for humanity to return to him and his offer comes with a promise, a promise that redemption will come. That this is not the end. That a loud voice will one day proclaim:
"Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They're his people, he's their God. He'll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone." The Enthroned continued, "Look! I'm making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate."Then he said, "It's happened. I'm A to Z. I'm the Beginning, I'm the Conclusion. From Water-of-Life Well I give freely to the thirsty. Conquerors inherit all this. I'll be God to them, they'll be sons and daughters to me.

(Rev 21:3-7 The Message)

The story is clear that we're all broken, we're all in poverty, but that Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, God of All the Earth will not leave us this way, that he comes to redeem, to rescue, and to save.

The Redemption is real. Real. Amen.


Nick said...

Good stuff, Marc. The last couple posts have been really insightful and right on...keep it going.