• C.S. Lewis - Giving more than we can spare...

    Posted by Marissa

    30 August, 2011

    "Charity---giving to the poor---is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce this kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare." (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity)

    Lately, as we all have, I have been confronted with the global situations, like the famine in East Africa, and the question of how we, as Christians, should respond. I find the question of Christian responsibility to give to charity a tricky one, but one that I feel compelled to engage with none the less. I think it's important to try to work out what this means for me, a Christian saved by grace living in the 21st century. What responsibility of morality do I have?

    Some say, as Lewis points out, that we shouldn't give to the poor because we should focus on avenues like economic growth and income generation in order to reach development. Others, including Lewis, point to the ideal society that God intended for Israel. God's plan for his people, that we see outlined in the Torah, includes commands like allowing gleaning for the poor (see Leviticus 23:22); the time of Jubilee - debt forgiveness (see Deuteronomy 15); and not to mistreat foreigners (see Leviticus 19:33). To me, it seems that this kind of world would be a wonderful God-honouring place to live! Unfortunately however, history has show that this kind of society isn't too easy to achieve and it's unlikely to happen any time soon - there are too many self-serving and corrupt states, corporations and private enterprises to allow an equitable and just society.

    Rightly so, Lewis suggests that our appropriate response is not to give up and walk away, though the reality may be disheartening. Instead, we should be more determined to pour ourselves out for the poor and victims of injustice. To Lewis, the only response to a world that refuses to promote justice is to "give more than we can spare". I don't think this only refers to financial giving - I believe God demands more than that. He wants our hands and hearts as well. He has great works for us to be a part of. And he wants our voice too, where we can be people of influence like we see from countless Old Testament exemplary characters including Esther and Daniel (not to mention our friend Micah). They worked with the system they were in - they challenged the authority of the day and urged the kings' to act justly and adjust their selfish rule. In fact, we would do well to still consider the practice of these Old Testament laws, because many are of great benefit for a well-functioning and moral society. It makes sense that so many aid agencies and non-profit organisations are focused on promoting fair-trade, human rights and debt-relief. It demonstrates the pursuit of a society that is pro-poor and pro-justice: that is the best way to go.

    So what does it look like for us, here and now? Well have seen the fruit of previous advocacy efforts in the recent release of the Independent Aid Review, which promotes further scrutiny of aid effectiveness. You see, there is no point in giving more aid, or in fact any aid at all, if it is not going to be used well. But even if we had no control over how our tax dollars are used (and the history of Micah Challenge shows that we do if we engage in good advocacy), that doesn't excuse us from pouring ourselves out for the poor in generosity of time and resources. Perhaps we sometimes need to be reminded of the fortunate circumstances God has placed us in; not merely for our own comfort but rather are to help those less fortunate. 'Giving to charity', for want of a better phrase, should not be done to accomplish a 'good person checklist'. We should wisely and sacrificially give in a way that we think is most appropriate and beneficial to assisting the poor out of poverty.

    In my opinion, the aid review was on the right track when it defined its first recommendation:

    "The fundamental objective of Australian aid is to help people overcome poverty. We work to improve the lives of those living in conditions far below what Australians find acceptable."

    The overall goal of the Australia's aid program is phrased succinctly with a positive focus to 'help people overcome poverty'.

    Parents shouldn't have to worry about their children dying before the age of five from preventable causes. Imagine not being able to grow enough food in your small patch of soil to feed the family more than one tiny serving a day, or pay for the bus to the doctor when your kids get sick. Imagine having to breastfeed your baby with no maternal healthcare support, while every day you can't get enough sustenance and you're both weak and malnourished. Imagine not having the option to find a job, send your children to school or even let them play outside because you know that if they don't work hard at their chores, there will be no firewood or water for that night. Unfortunately this is the daily reality that one sixth of the world faces, and that is why our cry out for justice is so important.

    God demands that His people "speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves" (Proverbs 31:8). That is what it means to be involved in Christian morality; to give more than we can spare. To use our voice, to lobby the government, to give to projects that fight poverty and to never, ever give up.

    Reflecting on Lewis' words, and also on Jesus' words in Luke 4 (quoting Isaiah 61), we are to be "people of Jubilee, living into God's Kingdom of peaceful, restorative, social policy and announcing Christ-given grace".

    Marissa Flynn is the 2011 Micah Challenge Church Engagement Intern.
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