This is book 3 of the 5 non-fiction books I wanted to read this year. I think this year I just might actually complete this goal.
I actually read Compassion, Justice and the Christian Life by Robert Lupton because a friend loaned it to me. You know how when someone loans you a book you feel like you have to read it, because they’re going to ask you how you liked it? I was surprised, though, because once I got started with this, I really enjoyed it. I thought about the way I help the poor, right and wrong, about what kind of things lead to long-term change and what hinder it. I also had to face some real truths about the way I interact with those I’m helping:
“There is blessedness in this kind of giving, to be sure. But there is also power in it – which can be dangerous. Giving allows me to retain control. Retaining the helping position protects me from the humiliation of appearing to need help. And even more sobering, I condemn those who I would help to the permanent, prideless role of recipient. When my motivation is to change people, I inadvertently communicate: Something is wrong with you, but (quite subtly) I am okay. If our relationship is defined as healer/patient, then I must remain well and they must remain sick in order for our interaction to continue.”
Over the last few years, and the last few months especially, I’ve become more and more convinced that social justice is absolutely essential to sharing the gospel. How can we tell someone that we care about their soul, but ignore the fact that they don’t have enough food or a roof over their heads? Evangelism and acts of compassion and fighting for justice are not separate things. Jesus came to mend and redeem our relationship with God, but he also healed the sick, wept with the hurting, and befriended the lonely – not a sidebar to his ministry, but it is by these things that people see God.
“The problem, of course, is that it leads toward viewing others as souls instead of people. And when we opt for rescuing souls over loving neighbors, compassionate acts can soon degenerate into evangelism techniques; pressing human needs depreciate in importance, and the spirit becomes the only thing worth caring about. Thus, the powerful leaven of unconditional, sacrificial love is diminished in society and the wounded are left lying beside the road. When we skip over the Great Commandment on the way to fulfilling the Great Commission, we do great harm to the authenticity of the faith.”
This book was an extremely quick read for me, and if you’re at all interested in learning how to really care for the poor, I can’t recommend it highly enough.