How Do You Feel About the Poor?

Visions of Poverty

The way that you feel about the poor people in this world says a lot about the role that money plays in your own life.

No matter whether you’re rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle, money can control your life. The Bible tells us that money can make slaves of us if we’re not careful, controlling our lives and the way that we relate to other people.

One of the best ways of checking our hearts for signs of money slavery is to evaluate the way we react to people whose financial situations are  different from ours. Last week we looked at warning signs in the way we look at the wealthy. Today’s study uses the same approach in evaluating the way that we think about the poor.

Poverty is an important and politically charged issue, and God cares a lot about the way that we treat poor people. Compassion, charity and outreach should be the hallmarks of the Christian attitude to the poor, but all too often we let other attitudes sneak in.

If you recognize any of these attitudes in your own thoughts about the poor, you might be a slave to money.

1) Pity

When we see the circumstances that the poor people in our country (or the rest of the world) endure, it’s natural to feel sad about it. But our reaction to that sadness says a lot about what’s going on in our hearts. If those sad feelings cause you to pity the poor, you may have issues.

Pity can seem like a charitable feeling, but that’s a self-delusion. Pity acknowledges the problems of others without offering any help in solving them. Pity looks at a situation from afar and says “How awful!” and “Thank goodness that’s not me,” without saying “What can I do to help?”

The correct response to poverty is not pity, but compassion. Compassion sees a need and reacts to fulfill it. Pity is only a selfish copycat of compassion.

2) Contempt

Sometimes we see problems of poverty and blame poor people for the circumstances that they deal with. And while there’s no doubt that bad choices can perpetuate financial problems, blaming the poor for their own problems breeds contempt in our hearts.

Contempt makes us angry at poor people, and can even make us think that they deserve to live the way they do. Contemptuous people come to resent the way that the poor burden our society, or that we pay taxes that go to providing for them.

The biggest problem with contempt is that it’s diametrically opposed to the heart of God. He loves the poor, and expects His people to provide for them. We can love on people well while secretly hating them at the same time.

3) Superiority

You may not struggle with pity or contempt for the poor — you may even give or volunteer to help them. But if this leads you to a sense of superiority over these people, your heart is not in the right place.

Having more money than someone doesn’t make you better than them. There are thousands of factors that can contribute to poverty, just as there are thousands that contribute to wealth. The poor don’t “deserve” poverty any more than you “deserve” wealth.

If you feel like you’re superior to the poor, it means that your identity is tied up in your money. And that makes you a slave.

4) Inferiority

There’s a small sub-set of our culture that puts poverty on a pedestal. Some people believe that the poor are much more wise or morally superior to the rich. Some people even believe that poverty is the most religious way to live, which has led to all sorts of misunderstandings in the mainline church.

The truth is that poverty doesn’t make anyone any “better” or “worse” than you. There are poor people whose lives are marked by incredible character and integrity, and others who are mired down in sin and bad habits. It’s dangerous to consider yourself inferior to anyone based on financial concerns.

5) Detachment

Of all the attitudes that we can feel toward the poor, perhaps the most dangerous is detachment. In our society, it’s easy to go through life every day without ever encountering a poor person. They don’t live in our neighborhoods, they don’t work in our office buildings, and their kids don’t go to school with our kids. We never see them, and so we slowly forget about them.

Detachment is so dangerous because it is so incredibly common. When we don’t see the poor, we don’t think about them, and consequently we do little to help them. The more that the middle and upper classes become detached from the poor, the less gets done to help the poor escape poverty.

The way that you think about the poor says a lot about the role that money plays in your own life. If you controlled your money, instead of your money controlling you, how would you treat the poor people in your own community?


Photo by Graeme Law. Used under Creative Commons License.