One of the most common popular objections to the existence of God has to do with the existence of suffering (or more broadly, evil) in the world. If your God is so good, the objection goes, how could he possibly allow such suffering to exist or continue? After my wife’s recent trip to minister in the slums of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, several internet readers have asked exactly the same question regarding the poverty, hardship, and suffering she witnessed there.
In all seriousness, I’d like to turn the question around a bit and ask it this way:
Is poverty God’s problem or ours?
If we step back and look at the problem of poverty, I think we will find the problem is not with God but with us. Looking through the Old Testament, there are numerous provisions in the Torah concerned with providing for the poor, widowed, orphans, and foreigners in Israel. Perhaps the best summary comes to us from the lips of Moses in Deuteronomy, where we read:
If there is a poor person among you, one of your brothers within any of your gates in the land the Lord your God is giving you, you must not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Instead, you are to open your hand to him and freely loan him enough for whatever need he has. Be careful that there isn’t this wicked thought in your heart, ‘The seventh year, the year of canceling debts, is near,’ and you are stingy toward your poor brother and give him nothing. He will cry out to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty. Give to him, and don’t have a stingy heart y when you give, and because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you do. For there will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land.’
Deuteronomy 15.7-11 (HCSB)
Time and time again, the Prophets indicted Israel for their lack of compassion against the poor in the land. Amos is especially critical of the wealthy among Israel for continuing to stockpile their wealth at the expense of caring for the poor. Over and over, the prophets pointed to the root of the problem. It was neither the existence of poverty nor a lack of resources. The problem was a land filled with people who simply cared more for themselves than they did for their neighbors.
In the New Testament, Jesus echoed Moses’ words and reminds us, “You will always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26.4, HCSB). Again, the problem presented is neither the existence of poverty nor a scarcity of resources but a problem of the heart. As many writers–most notably Richard Stearns–have pointed out, American Christians alone possess the wealth to virtually eliminate poverty in the world for the poorest of the poor. We have the resources to provide clean water and basic health care to the entire population of the world.
The problem is not God.
The problem is not poverty.
The problem is not resources.
The problem is that we do not care enough to act.