God Does not Differentiate Between Rich and Poor
Let’s talk about poverty and social inequality.
It’s an uncomfortable topic, sure – not to mention one that’s been talked about by countless people countless times before.
But we need to keep talking about it – and not just talk about it, but do something about it. As Christians, isn’t helping and showing love to others something we’re called to do? Isn’t the great gift of eternal life something anyone can have?
The truth is, in our hectic, 24/7, go-go-go-go, social media and tech-saturated, stress-filled lives, we often push it to the side, or have a skewed view of such things. “I can’t go out tonight – I’m so poor!” we might sometimes say when a friend texts to ask if we want to join them for dinner and drinks on a Wednesday at a fancy restaurant. Or, we might despair when we see a new phone that we want, but it costs almost $2,000, or that a week-long holiday in Tahiti will cost several thousand dollars, even with a deal on flights. Not being able to buy these things might make us think we’re poor.
I’ll admit I’ve fallen victim to the above, too. But on a recent weekend, I found myself in Dhaka, the capital of the South Asian nation of Bangladesh. Call it cliché, but it’s safe to say I’ll never think of myself as poor again.
The images are not easy to forget. Just a few minutes’ walk outside the airport, past several metal-barricaded checkpoints manned by armed police, all manner of people were milling about on Airport Road, like a giant, teeming mass of humanity. I’d never seen so many folks packed so closely together – and I’d been in central Tokyo only about three weeks prior.
There were men in business suits, smoking cigarettes and carrying briefcases. There were women in bright sarees in color imaginable. Honking buses painted bright green and red, rickshaws, bicycles and motorbikes zipping between the larger vehicles, the odd cow strolling about, to say nothing of the men hawking their wares from the backs of carts – from belts and hats and pants to CD players, fresh fruits and vegetables, books and more – and shouting at passers-by in Bengali to have a look, drawing enough would-be shoppers they clogged up the muddy sidewalks and spilled out into the street, forcing the traffic to drive around while tooting their horns incessantly… it was all truly a sight to behold.
Then there was the train station. Airport Railway Station is far from the largest in Dhaka – which is incredible to think about, given how utterly packed it was, even when I was there before seven in the morning on a Saturday. The only other time I’d seen so many people packed so tightly was trying to exit a sports stadium after a football match.
Yet as eye-opening (and claustrophobia-inducing, at least for those who might not like tight spaces) as it was (seeing trains steam into the station packed so full people literally hanging off the front, sides and sitting on the roof is indeed quite the sight), there was something else I saw that’s now seared into memory as a constant, haunting companion: the utter deprivation of people who were clearly suffering as they mingled among the seemingly much better-off.
Translation: I’m talking about people living in desperate poverty almost beyond imagination.
Many of the people looked like skeletons with the skin stretched so thin it appeared it was about to tear, like a small square of plastic wrap covering a plate. The majority didn’t even walk up to beg – they just sat there, staring. Many were missing limbs. One man who moved around by dragging his torso with his hands had massive lesions and open sores covering his body – among the signs of what may well have been leprosy. And several of them – children included – were just about completely naked. They made even homeless people in Western nations look well-off by comparison.
Never before had I seen such poverty, such obvious pain and suffering – not in Afghanistan, not in Zimbabwe, not in rural North Korea where famine is a serious concern, not in even the poorest parts of New Delhi and elsewhere in India, not anywhere.
Just seeing these people was enough to bring one to tears; “heartbreaking” is far too weak a word for such suffering. It was the kind of horror that gnaws at the stomach and leaves one with a nauseous, clammy feeling just thinking about it.
Seeing such deprivation leads many of us to question if God even exists. How can He, if He allows such things to happen, for some people (like us; uncomfortable as it may sound, if you live in the West, even if you are very poor financially, you’re still rich compared to many people in Bangladesh) to have so much, and others to have so little?
The truth is, it’s not that God allows it to happen – it’s that we allow it to happen. We have free will, after all. What does it say about us that we’re so selfish as to not help people who have less than us, in this case far less than us? Are our hearts really so frozen not to help those in need? Remember: much of Jesus’ ministry was about helping the poor and less fortunate, and showing them the riches of God’s kingdom.
And, after all, God loves us quite a bit. John 3:16 (NIV) is great because it sums up, in a single verse, just how much God loves us. It says: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Eternal life with Him, in Heaven. And in Heaven, we are all equal before God. As Proverbs 22:2 (NIV) reminds us: “Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.”
It’s something we would do well to remember, while also helping those on this earth who might have less or not be as privileged as us – whether they live in Bangladesh, or in the same building as us. It’s what Jesus would do.