Charity is a wonderful thing. Charity is also a failure and can be quite the cop-out.
Understand me. No one can honestly downplay the importance of giving to the poor, especially when it comes to those who are better off finanacially than the rest of us. “Giving back” to the community through such means as charitable foundations and donations to the local mission are undoubtedly a great help to those who are in need.
What can happen is that giving to charity becomes a substitute for real community. Rich people drop their unused items off at the Salvation Army and go home. Poor people then come to collect those items and return home. But the rich man never meets the poor man and no relationship between the two is ever formed.
Why does this matter? Because our primary need as human beings is not for stuff but for genuine relationships with other human beings.
In this regard, charity can unwittingly form an effective barrier to such relationships ever being formed. This is unfortunate, because one of the best things that can happen to a rich person is to become friends with a poor person. When the debilitating plight of ”those people” across town goes from being a vague social concern that you think about every now and then to the immediate, heart-felt struggle of someone you personally know and love, no longer can you coast through life with a smooth conscience while your neighbor wastes away in abject poverty.
It’s only when social injustice takes on the name and the face of a person you care about that things get real.
So you see we need something much more than charity to meet the needs of suffering humanity. We need true compassion, the heart of God for the poor and needy. What’s more, we need an altogether new way of living that is alternative to the systems of this world… systems that perpetuate the cycles of abuse, poverty, and oppression which keep people chained to hopeless living conditions from one generation to the next.
“On earth as it is in heaven,” the greatest hope for mankind is the coming of God’s kingdom in power.
As a Christian I take my stand with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Writing from prison he said,
The church is only the church when it exists for others. To make a start, it should give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the free-will offerings of their congregations, or possibly engage in some secular calling. The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live in Christ, to exist for others.
Our world is aching for a better way at every strata of society. And today is all we have with which to do something about it. So make a beginning today if you haven’t already. Find some like-minded folks in your area with whom you can pioneer a better way. Put your hand to the plough and don’t look back though the path be marred with blood and sweat and tears of frustration. For the kingdom of God will come in no other way than this, the only means by which it ever has-the way of the cross.