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What's wrong with prosperity?

   By Jeff Calkins Page 1 2 Plain Truth Dec, 1978

Today many religionists are demanding, in the name of God, that governments should "soak the rich."
Many say that God loves only the poor and hates the prosperous.
Is God really on the "side" of the poor?
Is He a Communist who has taken sides in the "class struggle"?
Here's the astonishing truth about what the Bible really says about wealth and poverty!


"Christianity is a religion of the poor, of the proletariat, of the exploited class," proclaims a recent issue of a prominent "radical Christian" periodical.

Other writers take much the same line. "God is on the side of the poor," declares Peter Davids in a recent issue of Sojourners, an evangelical publication.

In recent years many religionists have hopped aboard the God-hates-the-rich bandwagon. And by rich, it seems they do not mean just John D. Rockefeller of J. Paul Getty. They appear to include the average middle-class person in the Western world who enjoys such "luxuries" as owning his own home or renting a quality apartment, living in clean surroundings, having a car to drive and maybe a savings account. According to the radical Christians, God is angry at those who aren't dirt poor. God, they believe, is the "God of the poor" who is "working in history" to "liberate" the poor from oppression.

A person supposedly oppresses the poor if he enjoys a high standard of living. Radical Christians are forever pointing out that the United States, for example, consumes about a third of the world's resources, yet accounts for only six percent of the world's population. This fact supposedly indicts Americans as "oppressors." (What they forget is that "resources don't do anyone any good until they are developed into usable wealth, and the fact is that the U.S. and other Western societies produce more wealth than they consume, and share the balance with poorer countries)

So-called liberation theology takes the idea from the Bible that God loves the poor and oppressed (which is true) and combines it with the idea of Karl Marx that any time a man sells his labor to another there is "exploitation" (which is false).

Thus, according to this reasoning, God hates oppressors — who turn out, because liberation theologians have bought wholesale the economic theories of Marx, to be anyone who employs someone else. Karl Marx taught that industrial societies are divided into two classes, the workers and the middle class (though today, much to the consternation of Marxists, many workers have become middle-class). Thus liberation theologians conclude that because God and Christ do have some kind words in the Bible for the poor and some harsh words for their oppressors, He must therefore hate those — the middle and upper classes — who have acquired wealth, or capital, in this world.


Ignoring the Kingdom of God

According to the radical Christian view, God, because He is concerned about needy people, has taken sides in the "class struggle." Thus God is supposed to condemn all accumulation of property. He requires that those who have the means should give up all their possessions and become poor. He even counsels violence in order to "liberate" the poor.

Many of these radical Christians say, God is the "Lord of history." He is supposed to, be "at work in history casting down the rich and exalting the poor. God is "not neutral in the struggle for justice."

The above view is radical to be sure — but it is definitely not Christian. In the first place, God is not taking sides in man's affairs in the way most people, including professing Christians, think. Satan — not God — is the ruler of this world, this age (II Cor. 4:4). The world to come — the Kingdom of God — is God's world. God's primary work now is preparing the groundwork for the restoration of the government of God (Mark 1:14-15). (Write for our free booklet What Do You Mean — The Kingdom of God?)

God is not working in history — as radical Christians use the words — to "liberate" the poor. What they seem to imply is that God is working through the Communist party or other radical groups. This is why the Marxist groups in Rhodesia, for example, are treated favorably. Such groups are seen as the voice of the poor rising against their oppressors. Along the same lines, radical theologian Robert McAfee Brown once made the very revealing comment that "confronted with a choice of supporting the [Communist] Castro regime in Cuba or the [non-Communist] Pinochet regime in Chile," he would quickly choose Cuba because it is a country where "the poor" have their "basic needs" met. It is, of course, true that if Communist regimes say they have any purpose for their existence, it is to meet the basic needs of the poor, even if human liberty must be crushed (as it has in Cuba) in the process.

The Bible, however, gives a different picture.

The real salvation of the poor is the Kingdom of God which Jesus Christ will establish on earth at His return. Christ warned that in this "present evil world" (Gal. 1:4) the "poor always ye have with you" (John 12:8).


The Passion for Equality

The reason why some religious people actually want to use violence to overthrow free-market economic systems or, at the very least, cajole governments to adopt soak-the-rich policies is because of a zealous belief in equality. No one, they believe, should have more than anyone else: "No Christian should prosper while others suffer."

The attitude is similar to the one noted by Alexis de Tocqueville, a famous French writer (1805-1859), who said that some people would rather be "equal in slavery than unequal in freedom." The scripture which is used to bolster this belief is II Corinthians 8:13-15: "For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack."

But this scripture upholds equality only in the sense of God's equal compassion for all human beings. The context is the apostle Paul's appeal for famine relief. The equality that is being spoken of is an equality in the basic necessities of life: Paul is saying that he did not want any of the members of the Church of God at Jerusalem, for whom the famine relief was intended, to starve. The value here is compassion, not the "equality of result" which so many advocate today.

The truth is, God values equality for its own sake far less than most people realize. He places much greater emphasis upon spiritual maturity combined with responsible concern for others. This is clearly revealed in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30). In the parable, Christ 'likens Himself to a man who goes off to travel and first entrusts his assets to his servants. Some servants are given more responsibility, some less; each servant is apportioned "according to his several ability" (Matt. 25:15). There is no equality in how the assets are divided: It is according to "ability." Afterwards, the man returns and demands to know how each of the servants has done in managing what was entrusted to him.

Again there is inequality. Two servants have done well; one has done poorly. But instead of equalizing the shares, Christ gives the one talent of — the servant who did not develop or increase his talent to the servant who increased his share the most numerically — even though he and the other faithful servant both increased their shares the same proportionally.

The lesson, of course, is that God expects those with ability and talent to diligently use what they have been given.

While this parable primarily refers to our spiritual service to God, something God does not measure "equally" — it also certainly shows that there is no divine preference for equality for its own sake.

The fact is that God does not. choose sides in the "class struggle." Those who seek to make it sound as if God only loves the poor — and loves the poor because they are poor, not because they are the descendants of Adam and potential sons of God — almost never quote the injunction in Exodus 23:3: "Neither shalt thou countenance a poor man in his cause." Neither do they mention Leviticus 19:15: "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty." A poor man, according to these verses, shouldn't get special treatment simply because he is poor. His economic status should have nothing to do with justice. This point is reiterated by the apostle Peter, who stated that "God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).


Christian Violence?

Those who believe in the radical theology have very little hesitation about using violence to overthrow "oppressive governments." They believe that because they are on the side of the poor, violence is justified. Should they succeed in coming to power, they leave little doubt as to what they would do. They would have the government confiscate the earnings and wealth of the middle and upper classes. And they would do so in God's name!

But they would be wrong to use the authority of Scripture for what is really just baptized Communism! The Bible teaches that when those who have money or wealth provide for or give to the poor, they should be doing so individually out of genuine concern and love, not because the government tax collector is threatening them with jail terms. As the apostle Paul said about giving, it should be "every man according as he purposeth in his heart . . . not grudgingly, or of necessity" (II Cor. 9:7).


But What About the Poor?

One of the radical Christians puts it very simply: "The Bible regards poverty in the midst of plenty as sin." Another says, "The idea of individuals 'within the community of faith accumulating wealth while others suffer need is abhorrent to the biblical authors." The implication is that as long as there are poor people around, none of the others should ever enjoy plenty, or quality goods, or anything more than just the bare necessities of life.

But this view is not biblical! The Bible has many kind and compassionate words for the poor — but only the poor whose poverty is no fault of their own. Their poverty is the result of dependency, or circumstances beyond the individual's control. This is the poverty which is suffered by widows and orphans, the sick and disabled, the aged. Here the Bible is clear: Christians are obligated to compassionately assist these unfortunate individuals, even to' the point of sacrifice. The relief of such human distress is one of the fundamentals of true, religion. There is, indeed, a duty to give to the poor when you have the means to do so.

But there is another class of poor persons that the Bible speaks of. As harsh as it may sound, some people are poor through their own fault. To be blunt, some people are poor because of laziness. The Bible makes this very clear:

"He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand" (Prov. 10:4).

"The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets [that is, he makes excuses for not working]" (Prov. 22:13).

"He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster" (Prov. 18:9).

"I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down" (Prow. 24:30-31).

This last proverb is particularly appropriate to the poverty of many urban slums. Unless people are willing to expend the effort to care for their property, it soon deteriorates. Consider the almost proverbial case of the slum family which — is moved by a city redevelopment agency to a nice middle — class suburb and, within a short time has allowed their new quarters to get into a run-down, dilapidated condition. It is because 'they are unwilling to take care of what they have!