Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Munchausen’s by ballot

by John D Ramsey

I am not poor. Nevertheless, twenty years ago Lisa, Cara, Daniel and I subsisted below the United States poverty level. During that time, I did not consider myself poor so much as I considered myself perpetually broke. I always thought that I was only a couple good paydays away from financial recovery. The problem was that paydays were feeble and far between. Much has changed since then. Yet being poor taught me that the poor are frequently exploited.

Today, I have no respect for political promises whether they are directed to the abject poor, the working poor, or the middle class. My own rise from poverty followed a natural course: hard work followed by better work. I now have one of the best jobs imaginable. I cannot take credit for lifting myself by the bootstraps. I am what I am by the grace of God. I cannot attribute my success to any man.

I do not measure my present wealth in terms of income or net worth. Recent events have demonstrated how tenuously the wealthiest cling to their fortunes, not to mention their freedom. Like many Americans, I am probably a couple missed paydays away from financial ruin. Still I do not fret. I feel much more secure in the promises of God than in the sycophancy of men.

In fact, I view politicians with a jaundiced eye wondering whether they would rather ruin me (and those like me) in order to rescue me from despair. Political power is the strongest and cruelest of all perverse incentives. The more the disenfranchised need a political savior, the more the political manipulator needs people to be disenfranchised. Pandering politicians have a psychological disorder: you might call it Munchausen’s by Ballot. They deliberately inflict pain upon their constituents in order to present themselves as a savior. If we could order our leadership ala carte, I would vote for policies that promised me nothing save to leave me alone.

Yet, regardless of what politicians say or do, I do not despair. Despair, is the sincerest form of poverty. There is hunger, there is hardship, but despair – the absence of hope – is death. Ironically, despair afflicts people regardless of their station in life. Despair can destroy even the richest and most famous.

To evade despair, men hope. Yet not all hope is equal. In whom, then, shall we place our hope: politicians, economists, military strategists, scientists, musicians, or celebrities? These and all other men possess the same potential to disappoint.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I have a constant source of unfailing hope. When I am trusting Jesus, that is, fixing my eyes upon him, I cannot fear financial or political turmoil. At the same time, I cannot overlook others in need because Jesus would not. Trusting Jesus is the opposite of despair because “in him is life, and his life is the light of men.”

Brothers, we can do much to alleviate the pain of poverty. Paul wrote to Timothy concerning the rich, saying,
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 (NIV)
Regardless of whether we are rich or poor, we have a responsibility, as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, to treat all men as he would treat them. James, the brother of Jesus said, “Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27 (NIV) Later James says, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:16 (NIV)

Yet regardless of our spiritual responsibility to help others’ physical needs, how much greater is our responsibility to share Jesus Christ with them? In Jesus ministry, he addressed both the physical and spiritual needs of men. Likewise, we cannot supply one to the exclusion of the other. When we are unwilling to supply for physical needs, telling someone, “Stay warm, and eat well, trust Jesus” derogates the Gospel we proclaim. On the other hand, supplying physical needs without saying, Jesus loves you, is cruel because the soul lives longer than the body.

In a world wherein the poor are exploited, believers in Jesus Christ have an opportunity to share his life (our lives and resources) with the downtrodden. Our message is not political, economic, or judicial reform. Our message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As James wrote, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” James 2:5 (NIV)

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