Never More Urgently Needed GOD'S PLAN TO HELP THE POOR
Clayton D Steep
It has been on record for thousands of years — but no nation has yet followed God's antipoverty program!
IT GETS cold at night and it's awfully uncomfortable not being able to stretch out, but at least Ernest and Mary De Marco have their older car to sleep in. The middle-aged man curled up in a stained blanket some 50 feet away isn't that fortunate. The cloth bag next to him contains all his earthly possessions. Only the massive freeway bridge overhead shelters him from the elements. It wasn't always this way for the De Marcos. They once owned a home in a middle-class neighborhood. Those were the days. Ernest was a corporate manager with a promising future. His star was rising, as they say. The De Marcos had friends. Ernest treated his business acquaintances to frequent dinners in their tastefully furnished home. Mary especially enjoyed giving parties on the garden patio by the swimming pool. The De Marcos were living slightly beyond their means — who isn't? — and they used their credit cards often. But they thought they were managing their affairs well enough. They even had a little money tucked away in some conservative investments. Then one day the balloon burst. The company Ernest worked for sought protection under the bankruptcy code. Ernest suddenly found himself without a job. He tried hard to find work elsewhere, but no one was hiring. The money the De Marcos had had in their investments covered the mortgage and car payments for several months. Then it was necessary to start liquidating belongings. Piece by piece the De Marcos sold their furniture and major items. That kept them going for a while, but finally both cars were repossessed and the house was foreclosed. With what little cash they had left the De Marcos purchased the 10-year-old car they now live in. Too young for Social Security, they don't qualify for welfare either since both of them work at whatever odd jobs they can find. No permanent solution to their predicament seems forthcoming from anywhere. So there they are: barely getting by, living from day to day, feeling trapped. Few of the commuters whizzing along the freeway overhead realize that the thin and fragile thread holding together most of their own personal economic structures is all that is keeping them from joining the millions of De Marcos worldwide — the swelling ranks of the so called new poor. People who never thought it could happen to them. People who are much like other people except that they happened to get caught in a web of circumstances or, as is most often the case, a combination of circumstances and the consequences of unwise decisions. Most of these people would prefer to work, to be productive members of society. They, like many of the "old poor," need another chance. But who is offering one these days? What is the solution to the dilemma posed by the new poverty? For that matter, what about the poor in general, including those who were born poor and who have lived all their lives knowing nothing but poverty? Clearly the welfare programs of this world as a whole, based on various forms of taxation, have not solved the problem. Bureaucratic inefficiency, standards that are not always applied fairly, inability to weed out cheaters, insufficient funds — these and other shortcomings too often characterize the programs intended to help the poor and needy. And, what is perhaps most tragic of all, most of these programs tend to perpetuate the very poverty they were designed to alleviate. The poor to whom aid is given tend to stay poor. All too rarely does a recipient of public relief manage to break away on his own and become independent of that relief. Few are given any incentive to do so. Instead, they learn to expect ever increasing handouts, which in turn must be paid for by ever-increasing taxes, which in turn take away wealth from those who are earning it, thereby rendering those earners less prosperous; that is to say, closer to being unable to invest in businesses that can provide jobs for the poor. It's a vicious cycle. Is there any way out?
Where the Plan Is Found
Though it has been too often overlooked, there most assuredly is a plan that would resolve the problem of taking care of the needy. Not only would it alleviate the great tax burdens imposed on society for the care of the poor, the unemployed and the elderly, it also would provide the means for most of them to improve their lot in life and eventually become self-sufficient. Even beyond the level of the individual in need, the adoption of this plan would go so far as to nullify the difference between have and have — not nations! Where is such a plan? While proclaiming 1983 the "Year of the Bible," U.S. President Ronald Reagan declared, "Inside its [the Bible's] pages lie all the answers to all the problems man has ever known." How right he is! The Bible reveals the answers to all the problems of mankind. That includes the problem of caring for the poor, the unemployed, the disadvantaged. The plan is there, given in detail. But unfortunately, to members of modern societies that are based upon masses of people crammed together in large industrialized cities, the plan appears archaic. Actually, though, it is completely workable and it is going to be put into effect in the world tomorrow. It is the present-day oppressively urbanized, industrially dominated societies that are soon going to be recognized for what they are: archaic and unworkable! Almighty God once revealed his economic and social plan to a whole nation — ancient Israel. He promised the Israelites that if they would follow his plan, there would come a time when there would be "no poor among you; for the Lord will greatly bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance only if [and here is the "if" clause in the contract] you carefully obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe with care all these commandments which I command you today" (Deut. 15:4-5, RAV throughout). Great national prosperity would be inevitable, "for the Lord your God will bless you just as He promised you; you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow" (verse 6). No need to borrow? They would be a "have" nation. The God to whom all wealth belongs would see to it. This is one of the great differences between God's plan for taking care of the needy and all humanly devised social welfare programs. His plan alone involves his specific care to insure it will work. Still, God knew in advance that ancient Israel would not keep all his laws. Therefore his servant Moses predicted, as related in verse 11, "... the poor will never cease from the land."
According to the Bible, it is not primarily a responsibility of big government to care for the needy, the unemployed, the elderly. It is rather individual responsibility. Moses and Jesus taught forcibly that it is the individual's duty to help the needy (Matt. 25:34-46). Look around you. Have today's humanly devised programs, many of which are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, really solved the problems of poverty? Well intended they may be. The best man can do. But see, now, God's way of handling the situation: "And if one of your brethren [of your nation living in your area] becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you...." This is talking specifically about what we today call the "new" poor — people who become poor. The principles, however, would work for any poverty related situation. What does God say to do in such cases? Direct the poor person to the nearest government agency where he or she might qualify for a barely sufficient handout — one that tends to perpetuate dependence because the assistance is cut off the moment one begins to improve one's financial situation? No. "… then you shall help him" (Lev. 25:35) — you as an individual. It is the primary responsibility of the local community — including the nuclear or the extended family of the poor and needy — to help their own. In addition, there must be a willingness to help those in need who have migrated to one's area in search of better opportunities — the "stranger or sojourner" (same verse). God is a generous and giving God. His laws express the way of giving as opposed to the way of selfishness, which is the way of this world. Nobody loses "friends" or even contact with relatives more quickly in today's society, as the De Marcos found out, than those who become poor. "Wealth makes many friends, but the poor is separated from his friend," Proverbs 19:4 points out. Verse 7 adds, "All the brothers of the poor hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He may pursue them with words, yet they abandon him." The last thing the poor need is to be abandoned, left to languish in squalor and hopelessness. Instead they need a helping hand to get back on their feet, or to get on their feet for the first time, to become self-sufficient members of the community. This help may include personal instruction so that the mistakes made in the past that brought on the poverty can be avoided in the future. "'You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land,"' God commands (Deut. 15:11). "Blessed is he who considers the poor," the Bible emphasizes; "the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble" (Ps. 41:1). God is the Champion of the truly poor and needy. He also promises to liberally bless any who help the underprivileged. He has bound himself to repay what is given: "He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given" (Prov. 19:17). Unfortunately, in today's society, people are often suspicious and hesitant about helping those who appear to be needy. There are indeed some who are poor because of simple laziness. There are those who could work, who could better themselves, but who prefer to live off handouts. Instances of welfare cheaters and social parasites have turned people away from caring for the truly deserving. God's program does not tolerate laziness and dishonesty. "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat," the Bible declares (II Thess. 3:10). All the more reason to shift the responsibility for caring for the needy from huge impersonal government agencies, which have no way of assuring that help is going only to the deserving, to individuals who know their neighbors and who are able to keep up personal contact with them. God's plan includes providing for the needs of the elderly who can no longer support themselves (and most of them would prefer to be able to!).
A Plan with a Heart
The Israelites of old failed to properly and consistently implement God's economic program. There is no record in all history of any other nation doing differently either. But God's plan will form the basis of the economic and social structure of the world tomorrow, whether the nations like it or not. Here's how God's plan works in detail. A vital point to understand is brought out in Leviticus 25. Human beings were meant to maintain an attachment to the land. Severing that tie has been a serious mistake. There's far more than a mere sentimental connection between humans and the earth. We are made out of the earth's dust. With a few special exceptions for specific purposes, each of us was meant to have a piece of the earth, a parcel of land, an inheritance all our own. It was to belong to us until death, at which time it would become the lifelong inheritance of someone else in the family.
What is the solution to the dilemma posed by the new poverty?... Clearly the welfare programs of this world... have not solved the problem.
Because individual possession of an inheritance is fundamental to God's economic system, it is obvious why no nation would allow God's program to be put into effect. But if life were lived according to God's way, each person would have a piece or tax-free land to live on or to fall back on in an emergency if he were to be living elsewhere. This title to land would be a person's minimum ultimate worth. A landowner could make improvements upon the land and buildings associated with it and so raise its value, and thus his own worth and living standard. He would have every incentive to do so, for he would not be taxed on the value of the property. He would be expected to pay God a flat 10 percent (called a tithe) of any profit made (minus business expenses, of course). And any nation so doing would have God's divine protection against an enemy nation. What a far cry from the crushing income and property taxes levied in today's world. A person under God's system could never sell his land permanently (Lev. 25:23), but he could "sell" his land for a limited period of time. In the modern vernacular we would refer to this as a lease arrangement. Every 50 years a Jubilee year was to be proclaimed nationally (verses 8-17). An inheritance could be "sold" — leased out — only until the Jubilee year. That year it would once again revert to its rightful owner. A person who leased out his land could get it back before the Jubilee, however, if he so desired. He could repossess it any time he wanted it by canceling the lease and paying a fair price to the person to whom he had leased it. Thus a person could never be permanently deprived at the very least of a tax-free house and home. This is the way it will be in the world tomorrow, for in order that "everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree" — a picture of the peaceful conditions of the age to come — it will be necessary that everyone have his own piece of land (see Micah 4:4). What a different world that will be! Of the masses crowded together in today's sprawling cities, few people out rightly own real estate. Most are renters and have little to fall back upon in hard times. Those who are making mortgage payments are only a little better off. They have some equity. But in hard times they too can lose their land through foreclosure, just as the De Marcos did. Even those who own land free and clear can still lose it if they are ever unable to find the cash to pay the taxes on it.
The biblical plan given to ancient Israel contains numerous additional guidelines for dealing with personal economic situations. If a person leased out his land, then needed to buy it back but did not have the money to do so, he could appeal to his relatives for help in repurchasing it (Lev. 25:25). Any money that is loaned to those in need, as opposed to that which is loaned for investment purposes, was to be interest-free, nor was a profit to be made on anything sold to the poor (Lev. 25:36-37). God's program specified a seven-year statute of limitations on all debts incurred by those within the jurisdiction of God's laws (Deut. 15:1-2). Think what that would mean in today's world when consumers, encouraged to go into debt and to buy on credit, are so often led into financial disaster. Few lenders would be willing to extend credit to seduced buyers for luxuries and nonnecessities, if they thought they would not get their money back before the seven-year release! Society would quickly adopt as basic a cash-as-you-go policy. If a person, for one reason or another, fell on really hard times, or if he did not feel capable of managing his own affairs, he would not, under God's plan, face living on skid row as a useless derelict. For a seven-year period he could hire himself out as a servant to someone who is prospering. At the end of that period the boss is expected to be generous to him in remuneration. He could begin a fresh, independent start. But, if the servant wished, he could continue the arrangement for however many years remain until the Jubilee year, at which time he would be free and would regain possession of his inherited land (Lev. 25:39-54; Deut.15:12-18). God's program for taking care of the needy has sufficient flexibility to provide various means of solving individual problems, all with the involvement of relatives, neighbors and employers rather than faceless bureaucratic government agencies. There are, however, occasions where help is needed beyond the person-to-person level Situations may arise where someone in need has no relatives to help or resources to draw upon. God's program also provides for such eventualities. Every third year that the land was cultivated and harvested (which is the same as saying every third and sixth year out of a seven-year cycle, for the land was to rest on the seventh year — Lev. 25:1-7), a special tithe was to be collected. Its purpose was to provide for whoever "has no portion nor inheritance with you, and the stranger and the fatherless and the widow … [that they] may come and eat and be satisfied... " (Deut. 14:28-29; 26:12-15). Those who observe this law even today can testify how liberally God renders his blessings in return. Under God's system the whole attitude toward sharing the wealth of the earth is far different from the greed expressed today. The corners of the harvested fields are to be left unreaped and hard-to-reach ripened fruit is to be left ungathered, so that any who are needy might eat thereof (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-21). There is to be no oppressing one another (Lev. 25:14). "You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.... You shall not defraud your neighbor, nor rob him … " (Lev. 19:11, 13). Everyone seeking to help one another, looking out for each other's interests — that's what God wants to see and that's the way it will be when Jesus Christ reestablishes the government of God over the earth. You might say at this point, if you are one of the new poor or the needy struggling to get by on meager sustenance, "What do I do under today's system?" First, you do not have to be defeated by poverty or want! Seek to better your contact and relationship with God. Put God's ways into practice in your life. If you are willing to work hard at whatever God provides, the One to whom all wealth belongs will intervene to take care of your needs. He will "supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19, RAV). That is both a challenge and a promise. Why don't you take him up on it?