>Does God favor the poor?

>While it is undeniably a common (mis)perception that God favors the rich, that the wealthy are wealthy because they are God’s favorite, it seems as if there is a counter-view that sees the poor as being favored by God. On my Christian university campus, this is a fairly common stance and we find it in places such as Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. I must admit that until recently I have subconsciously held to this view as well. After all, aren’t the rich generally proud and arrogant? Don’t the rich idolatrously worship Money? Are not the rich the oppressors of the poor? Didn’t Jesus commend the poor widow instead of the rich men? Are we not commanded to care for the poor and to refuse to show favoritism to the rich? This all made sense until a few weeks ago. Clearly I am commanded to love the poor and recognize that they are just as human and have the same dignity as the rich. Clearly God cares deeply for the poor. Clearly the poor make up the majority of those who worship Jesus. All things considered, however, where do I get the idea that the poor are the favorites of God? Does God have favorites? From my perspective as an Arminian, I believe strongly that God offers salvation and redemption to all human beings, regardless of whether they are rich or poor. From the perspective of my Calvinist brothers and sisters, God unconditionally elects those who are to be saved, meaning that He doesn’t even elect them on the basis of being poor because their financial status is no more a condition for salvation than anything else. Jesus commended many poor people, but also commended some who were rich and powerful. Even though the rich young ruler would choose not to follow Christ, we know that Jesus loved him. We are not to show favoritism to the rich, but surprisingly we are not to show favoritism to the poor. In Exodus God even demands the same atonement offering from the rich and the poor. We are commanded to show partiality neither to the rich nor the poor, for doing so either way perverts justice. We are told that when we give to the poor, we are in reality giving to Jesus and storing treasure in Heaven. Why is this is not so when we give to the rich? When we give to the poor, we are giving to those who legitimately are in need and therefore we are fulfilling the law of love. When we give to the rich, we are often doing so in the expectation of receiving something in return: favors, social connections, invitations to events, etc. There is nothing particularly commendable about giving to those who can repay you (although it would be commendable to give something a rich person does need, e.g. a kidney), just as it is not particularly commendable to love your family (which is simply expected) whereas it is to love your enemy or annoying acquaintance. We are told again and again not to show favoritism to the rich, not to lead us to show partiality to the poor, but because our natural sinful tendency is to favor the rich and so the commands address our most common sin. If we are going to oppress anyone, it will generally be the poor and not the rich and so we are commanded with regard to that truth of sinful humanity. Of course we must be generous and care for the poor, but this does not mean that the rich do not matter to Christ. It has been my temptation on nights where my friends and I have spent some time with the homeless in Santa Monica to feel compassion for these poor and contempt for the rich who a few feet away in beach-side condos. I have even felt self-righteous for feeling this way, thinking that in doing so I was cutting myself off from the influence of materialism. This was the case until recently it occurred to me (through helpful insights of my friend, Adam) that Jesus was totally free from the concern of possessions, totally liberated from the chains of Mammon, and that it looked different than my own supposed freedom. Jesus could live and move among the rich and the poor. He could attend an extravagant wedding banquet, dine with Pharisees, and spends days among the masses and nights without a bed on which to lie. He recognized that people came rich and poor, and that their economic status had an impact on who they were, but they were never defined by their wealth or lack thereof in His eyes. He could love and have compassion for the poor in their suffering and the rich in their meaningless pursuit of money. To be like Christ, to be free from the influence of wealth, we cannot simply learn to hate money for in doing so we are simply defined negatively by it. We must become so free that money is simply no longer a concern except when it specifically stands in the way of a person’s pursuit of discipleship. The implications of what it means to be a rich Christ-follower are difficult to discern and even more arduous to apply in obedience. We must plunge into these implications and applications, particularly because you and I are “the rich” and are most likely surrounded by communities of “the rich.” We must seek to understand what it means to be rich and to be a disciple of Christ, even if in the end it requires us to sell our possessions and give them to the poor. Even in the midst of all this, we cannot allow ourselves to show partiality to the poor anymore than we may be excused for favoring the rich. For, “Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.”

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~ by Samuel on October 16, 2007.

One Response to “>Does God favor the poor?”

  1. >Not bad ideas. Read Cone’s God of the Oppressed for a slightly different take. He believes Jesus is most with the poor for they need him most. The implications of this are that the well-off and the well-guided do not have Jesus beside them the same way the poor do, perhaps sad to some, but intriguing nonetheless. You do, however, do a pretty decent job of addressing many of these things.

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