Josh Tinley wrote a great post. So great, I tried to write a comment, and ended up with something so long I felt it would best be its own post. You see, we’ve been talking a lot at MCB and other places about extending Christian mercy to those who are suffering, even those who are in the situations they are in due to unwise decisions. I think the conversation is specifically about certain elements of the homeless population.
We have actually discussed this in Sunday School before, without coming to any kind of consensus:
As followers of Christ, what do we do when we suspect someone receiving our aid is gaming the system, or at the very least, taking advantage? I know what common sense says, but what does Christ say? Are we supposed to care if we strongly suspect we are, basically, giving a drunk a drink? Do we even give any consideration to the thought that we’re possibly doing more harm than good, that we’re enabling a person in a way that will keep them in misery, instead of getting them out of it?
I ask, because I struggle with this.
I have no problem extending mercy to even to criminals who have committed what could be awful crimes; I’ve prayed with such men many times before, and made many friends behind prison walls. Same goes for just about any situation a person gets himself into. There but for the grace of God go I.
Yet, I have this blind spot about people who I know, or very strongly suspect, COULD work, but do not.
The backdrop to this is that I come from pretty humble beginnings. Everything I say has the backdrop behind it of where I come from, where I am now, and the concepts that got me from there to here.
My father never really preached religion to his three sons; he just sent us to church and let us get our religion by osmosis. But, he preached nonetheless.
The only thing my blue collar father ever preached about, what he did drill into me was sermon after sermon on the value of work. He would preach, “If you don’t have a job, and aren’t spending every waking moment looking for a job, you have shamed your name.” Well, he didn’t say it like THAT, but I got the meaning loud and clear.
He believed that if you have a condition that keeps you from working, do everything possible to alleviate that condition – make it your number one priority – so you can WORK. The work is the most important thing a man can do. Not the getting paid part – working itself. Always work, and if you can’t, make a job of looking for work.
He taught me not to turn turn my nose up at ANY job, whether I found it beneath me or not, whether it could support me or not – the act of working was more important than the pay. He taught me that taking a menial job, and outworking everyone, is the way to having a job that DOES support you and your family. Other rules include never being late, that sick time is NOT “Not Feeling Well” time, that volunteering for the hardest tasks will get you ahead. No matter what you do, be the best there is at that job, outwork EVERYONE, and prosperity will follow. Approach the world of work with the attitude that you have something to prove, because you do.
And my life has taught me that he was right.
I always have this voice in the back of my head telling me that a well spoken person in an area with 4% unemployment should be working. He just should, period. I can see my dad, shaking his head. And I just can’t shake that voice.
So, I have to square this teaching with my Christian beliefs.
And, let me tell you, it’s hard. Paul had some things to say about the slothful, and Jesus used them as a “bad example”, but we are not told if Jesus was ever taken advantage of, and if so, what he did about it. Something tells me that he would have helped. His prodigal son parable makes me think that; although I wonder: the son had given up “riotous living” – Jesus never makes it clear that the father did not go to the faraway country and help the son financially while he was still living in a way that would just mean his help was wasted. So, I don’t know.
I am torn. You can’t just throw away 20 years of paternal teaching – it kind of gets under your skin. And it has served me well. So, sometimes, I guess, this Christian has what appears to be an unmerciful attitude. I’m not proud of it – but now you know why.
I guess all I can do is pray about it.