Homelessness is Next to Godliness

September 26, 2011

Two-thousand years ago, Jesus praised poor people and condemned rich people.  He told parables of rich men who wound up in hell, and told a wealthy man to sell everything he had.

Today, unemployment is chronically high.  The stock market is unstable.  Thousands of homes are foreclosed, banks shut, and billions of dollars lost.  More people than ever now live in poverty.  Most of us became a little bit poorer because of the recession.  Some of us became much poorer.

But on the upside, can we look at Jesus’ words to the wealthy and poor, and think that maybe we’ve become a little bit holier because of our decreased wealth?  Now that we are a bit poorer, a tad more downtrodden, maybe we are more righteous in the eyes of God…

That would be great for me.  The poorer you’ve become, the better off you are with God.

Too bad it doesn’t work that way.  In fact, many of us today may be worse off with money, and with God.

Three Kinds of Poor People

The way I see it, there are three kinds of poor people…

The first are the people like most of you reading this blog: suburbanites who have enough money to find a way to read this blog, but are probably becoming poorer through unemployment, the recession, or inflation.

There are people in our culture who think we’re getting what we deserve.  They think that Americans have too much money, and we probably stole it from someone else, so if we lose our jobs or our life savings, we’re getting our due.  Maybe God is taking away our money because we’ve spent so much time idolizing and worshiping it.

If that’s the case, then this whole recession should be some kind of “spiritual cleansing.”  We should all come out on the other side, poorer, unemployed, uninsured, and spiritually enlightened about how we never actually needed all that stuff.

Recreational Poverty

Then there are people who think that rebelling against capitalism by not having a career or any possessions except the clothes on their backs and the beards on their faces makes them holier people.

Many of us may know someone like this, or you’ve seen them in your cities.  They live as nomads, easily packing up and moving from odd job to random adventure.  Their lives seem surreal and exciting compared to yours because they are not chained down by materialistic idols like jobs and children and “stuff.”  You imagine that they are happier, and probably holier because they live such a meager existence.  I saw a ton of these people in Denver this summer.

This is what I call “recreational poverty.”  The difference between these people and real poor people is that they are able bodied, capable of working.  They just choose not to.  They have chosen a life that may be free of idolatrous “things,” but they are also free of responsibility.  No one is counting on them.  They contribute little of value to communities.

Homelessness is Next to Godliness

And then there are the people who are genuinely, desperately poor.  Many of us would like to pretend we are poorer than we are, because we think that poverty breeds holiness, but these people are living it.

The thing is, poverty doesn’t breed holiness.

This recession is shaping up to be a complete waste.  No one is becoming enlightened about all that money they never needed.  Instead, the only thing I hear Americans do is complain about how bad the economy is, how much money they’ve lost, how much stuff costs.  Of course, stuff has always cost too much.

And people who are poor just for the fun of it aren’t freeing themselves of any idols.  Their lives, free of money and responsibility to family and community are just as self-centered as anyone living in wealth can be.

Money is a great invention, and we all need it.  It represents what we can have in the future.  It’s way better than bartering.  What binds all of us together is the fact that the Bible does not say that “money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  If that were true, than poverty should breed holiness.  The less money you have, the less evil you should be.  But the Bible says that “the love of money is a root of evil.”  So no matter how little money I have, I can always love and trust my money above all else.  And no matter how much money I have, I can always be envious of more.

What do you think?  Is the global recession really producing people who care less about money?  Or are we focusing on it, idolizing it more than ever, now that we don’t have as much as we think we need?

26 responses to Homelessness is Next to Godliness

  1. It seems that some facets of Christianity idolize the poor. I’m just sayin’…

    Jesus became poor (your definition of recreational poverty – LOL). I mean have you checked out the price of gold, frankincense, myrrh? I know a pastor in my region that gave up a 6-figure income to become a missionary in Jordan. He now pastors a small church and lives more simply than ever. Serving God is a choice, and it always has an element of calling. However; that does not negate God’s ability to work with, and love people with tons of cash. I have two millionaire friends that do missions, feed the poor in soup kitchens and give generously as God leads.

    The idea that the lack of wealth equates to godliness is just more religiousness. Certainly there is a lot of anecdotal evidence as the Gospel races ahead in third-world countries. Being poor, however; is not the key, but the pressure on people to see their true need is. Lots of well-to-do people met Jesus in the Bible, and all that Kings of Isreal (well the good ones) were wealthy. It was the religious people that seemed most deceived.

    The global recession may in fact usher in some of the End Times situations prophesied in the Bible. Regardless, whatever it is that causes people to see their true needs, that will help them discover God. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it often seems necessary.

  2. ” So no matter how little money I have, I can always love and trust my money above all else. And no matter how much money I have, I can always be envious of more.”

    Sad…but true matt…always…

    I remember hearing that the more money you have…the more you spend…

    People always thing..if I only had more money…i could do this or that or this or that…but we just spend it more…and more…

    Heck…now a days…we spend money we don’t have! cough cough government…

    but i can’t point fingers at them only….

    i have a couple of credit cards….shame on me too…

    • Right you are. It’s that attitude that not only has put our government in the dire straights it’s in, but everyday Americans. I guess I should say that money used to represent what we can have in the future. Now we just operate on credit.

  3. It certainly seems as though God cares more about our focus on stuff than about how much stuff that we actually have. And so, in a warped way, your “recreational homeless” are just as materialistic as the rest of us. Their focus is still on stuff (or their lack thereof).

    And so, in response to your question, I’d say no–the recession is not, in general, producing people who care less about money. Poverty only produces a holier person when that person can really and truly rely on God without worrying for the future–a task that seems to be practically impossible for us as fallen creatures. Material poverty may force us to a place where we recognize that we are either relying on God or relying on money, but it can’t force us to then choose to rely on God.

  4. Matt – Great post and well written.

    I believe that the problem we are having now is not entirely the fault – as many suggest and would like to think – of President Obama. But rather it is a carryover from previous administrations, as are most problems in our country.

    My husband is now retired from two careers – the military and Caterpillar, Inc. We are not suffering in any way from this recession.

    However, many people are, and what bothers me is that these people – who should be able to have jobs, raise their children and if they wish send them to college, etc. – are finding that life is pasing them by.

    Nothing is going to be solved, Matt, to help these Americans as long as we refuse to unify, and stop this infighting between the two major political factions.

    And as for God, He must be shaking His head and wondering why His name is being linked to all of this mess – when really it is the fault of His silly, naughty, petty children.

    • Oh yeah, time is money and I know from experience the frustration of waiting out a job. Every day people do without sufficient work today is probably two days of retirement they’ll have to give up since they aren’t saving and investing.

    • But you are willing to admit that President Obama has been inept in leadership leading to required cuts in federal spending (And in fact worse than previous all administrations in terms of deficit spending) and finding ways to create jobs, correct?

      At a time when government is still spending us into oblivion, we could use a leader that takes a stand and vetoes all new spending while promoting fiscal conservatism. But then he’d be demonized for aligning with the Taxed Enough Already Party.

  5. I’m with David. Some of the richest people I know are the most generous people that I know.
    My friend’s husband is a chiropractor. They are loaded! They live on the lake. When they their small group over for a bar-b-que, it’s not hamburger, it’s rib-eye. She doesn’t donate to the homeless organization, she spends the morning making lunch and delivering it to the homeless people in the city. She gets her hands dirty, in the name of Jesus. She is the most generous woman I know.
    The international ministry that I volunteer with operates the same way. The CEO doesn’t sit in his office, he gets down and dirty with the children on the streets of India. He flys to Sudan to tell the leader of the country to quit bombing the churches and hospitals. He goes to Haiti to assess how his ministry can best serve there. And he is continually criticized for making too much money. A woman at my church won’t participate in this international ministry that ministers to the poor because she believes the CEO should not make over $100k if he is in ministry to the poor. (Aren’t we all, as Christ followers, called to minister to the poor? sheesh!)
    Poverty doesn’t breed holiness, and wealth doesn’t breed depravity.

  6. Matt, I’m so glad I kept following you. This is the post I’ve been waiting for. Thanks for coining the label “recreational poor.” I’ve been searching for a name for these folks. They call themselves “poor,” as a badge of honor. And don’t mind borrowing from others when the need $$ because, it looks to me, working is too “mainstream.” Thanks, I really needed this post.

  7. Rich or poor, it all boils down to a heart issue.

    Poverty can be a state of mind as much as a financial state.

  8. Excellent questions.

    I don’t think that poverty breeds holiness except that it provides an opportunity for a reality check about what is really important (God, family, community, etc). However, it is up to the individual to cash that check or to just go about complaining and trying to horde as much “wealth” as they can.

    I’m glad that you pointed out how the “recreationally poor” are no less self-centered than the rest of us because they are “free” of responsibility and don’t add any value to the communities they live in. If anything they are a drain on others.

  9. This article seems ignorant to — or wholly unconcerned with — the effects that our lifestyles have (and could have) on our environment (in the full sense of the word, not just ecology). To me, living “simply” (a relative term, but helpful nonetheless) is a mandate of the Christian life, not because of some disembodied notion about the role of money in our lives, but because of the PHYSICAL repercussions that living simply has in our homes, neighborhoods, and world.

  10. The things I’ve gone through since I lost my job and through this year have really made it harder for me to follow God. When you are looking at how many missed payments are left until you’re homeless, it’s an incredibly stressful time. The stress can reach the point where you just can’t seem to do anything because you feel overwhelmed all the time.

    Somehow I don’t think that’s what God had in mind for our lives.

  11. That word need has always been a problem for us humans. We take a look around and see what many others have, label that normal, and determine that for us to be normal we have some needs that should be met.

    I see guys all the time down here in Paraguay driving an Ox cart to work a field all the while texting and surfing the web on their cell phones. They will take that basic phone trade it in and upgrade to a more advanced one with payments. I have been offered a payment plan on items costing less than $5.

    Tony Alicea nailed it. It’s a heart issue. Might I suggest the book “When Helping Hurts” by Stephen Corbett as a way to better understand poverty.

  12. I have been in all three categories in my short 28 years on this planet. Each was able to teach me something valuable.

    Not having money changed little about my family, except that we learned how little we are able to use to get by. It was when my parents got out of debt 12 years ago that I started going to church and eventually we all became believers. It was during a time of relative comfort. We were living paycheck to paycheck, but we had no evident need. It was when we stopped wishing for more money (and realized we had enough to pay the bills and meet our needs) that we began to realize how much we had been blessed.

    In terms of the global recession, I think it is producing many people who care less about money. However, I also think there is little impact spiritually. I have personally met several people who just switched idols.

  13. Matt–

    Maybe it’s a function of where you live, but I’ve -never- met one of these “recreational poor” people that you describe. Sure, I did know guys in college who were lazy and had no intention of getting a job, but it was because they were the spoiled rich kids whose parents had never actually made them work–not because they were trying to make some grand rebellious statement.

    If there is actually a population of “recreational poor” out there, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that it’s a tiny minority compared with the “actual poor”. This sounds dangerously similar to the tired old trope of the “welfare queen”, but maybe that’s just me.

    • Like I said, I saw a bunch in Denver, and I actually saw a bunch in New Orleans too, but definitely Denver. They were young, mostly male. Obviously had enough cash to outfit themselves with frame backpacks, but chose to live on the streets, sometimes even barefoot. They struck me as able-bodied, mentally healthy. I’ve known one or two of these types personally. Not necessarily bad people, and not necessarily homeless. But their lives at first glance seem exciting and even spiritually elevated, until you realize they’ve just removed all responsibility for anyone else from their lives. That’s how they achieve freedom.

  14. Poverty doesn’t create Godliness. Godliness creates poverty.

    That is what happened in my life. Actually, I was raised in a poor family. So was my wife. But we spent many years striving for a better income and home, just like the millions of other people. And all it did was increase our stress, worries, and keep our focus on ourselves. There was never any true happiness. Just “moments” of happy pleasure using money each week. This is the typical secular lifestyle. The norm in society.

    When I found God, that all changed. Over time I came to understand the things that were tormenting and ruining my life and that of many others. Jesus gave up His life long before He made it to the cross. He proved that sacrifice IS indeed essential to understanding and knowing the Will of God. All the popular treasures of the world are unGodly. And they should be avoided as much as possible.

    So what can you do to follow God’s path? Well, first of all, working two jobs to pay for a house, two cars, swimming pool, and go on vacations will not get you there at all. That’s a lifestyle created by Godless people and is the norm of today. And that leads me to stating that we are now living in a Godless era. And very LOW time as far as God is concerned. Peoples have been destroyed by God for living the way we do today. And Jesus may be the only reason why it won’t come again. But judgment is coming instead.

    There aren’t “kinds” of poor people. The size or lack of a bank account doesn’t have anything to do with God. It is just that people who know God see absolutely no value in money, other than to buy groceries, put gas in the car, or help the needy. But to use it to buy things you “want” is a step in the wrong direction. And a big reason why being rich is a path far away from God’s.

    Anyone who says that a rich man can be humble is either a liar or is deceived. Humility can only come without worldly wealth.

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