When Stephenie and I were in Italy, we came across a Kony 2012 symbol sprayed on the back of a street sign. My memory abruptly jumped back to nearly a year before when I saw the Kony 2012 video for the first time and along with it, as these two events are inseparable, the hot debate following. Was Kony 2012 a “Christian” idea. It probably would be good to note here that I don’t think that anything can be “Christian” except a person. But perhaps a rewording is in order. Is it a “moral” idea inline with the morality of one who considers himself to be a Christian?
But more generally, the concept of humanitarian work altogether is something that I think any believer needs to grapple with. What is my duty, as a believer in the saving power of Jesus Christ, to the hurting, impoverished, sick, and oppressed in the world?
I feel like there are two extremes that we tend towards. First, there is the person who offers the bread of life, but leaves empty stomachs. I can’t help but think of churches who do nothing to better the poor and hurting communities that surround them. But this isn’t an unknown stereotype. For a long time the church has been accused of closing its doors to the needy and only attending to the righteous within. There may be some truth here, but in my experience with churches in four different countries across a wide range from extreme wealth to intense poverty, it is a stale stereotype. More than ever the church is reaching out and providing for its community.
It is the other extreme that bothers me: the church that leaves no mouth hungry, but is afraid to say the name of Jesus. There is a new and troubling characteristic of the church that has gone beyond cultural sensitivity and leaped headfirst into religious ambiguity. Some of us have bought the lie that we are hurting people by telling them about Jesus when instead we should just meet their earthly needs. Some say that it communicates a bad theology where we associate earthly provision with divine grace in such a way that doesn’t reflect the reality of Christian life. It is a lie to tell the sick that if he converts he will certainly be healed of his immediate ailment. It might happen, but there is not biblical guarantee. I think others don’t want to oppress the beliefs of others and are careful to not “shove their views down others throats.”
Either way, it makes me terribly sad. Four men brought their paralytic friend to Jesus in hopes that he would heal him. But Jesus’ first response isn’t to make the paralytic walk. Instead, he forgives his sins. Jesus knows the paralytic’s true needs. His real problem is not the inability to walk, but the inability to be righteous.
So, I find it strange that we hand out medicine with no reference to the “great physician” as my grand mother might say. Why solve only the temporary problem?
The Church is called to meet both needs. Yes, the immediate need must be met. Let’s feed the hungry, heal the sick, and support the widows and orphans in our community. But let’s also bring hope to the hopeless, light to the darkness, and meaning to the depressingly obscure.