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President Obama and Democrats are talking about “income inequality” a lot these days, presumably setting up the 2014 midterm elections to hinge on that issue. “Republicans are mean, want you poor, and your kids to eat cat food.” Or something like that.
Now, I’m not here to defend the Republicans (I’m not one anyway), but I am here to address the topic of income inequality as a Christian, especially as it seems many of my spiritual brethren seemed focused on this as well, expressing deep concern over the widening gap between the rich and the poor. I have many thoughts on this topic, a few of which I’ll share and none of which will be popular. But, hey, I’ve never been comfortable being a conformist.
So let’s start with this:
God is the author of income inequality.
It’s true. If you believe in the sovereign God of the Bible, then you must believe that he ultimately determines what our various incomes are to be. 1 Samuel 2:7 reads, “The LORD sends poverty and wealth” (NIV). No person owns anything—including money—that God has not first provided. And he has chosen to give some people a lot and some a little.
We are not measured by the incomes our Eternal Father gives us (though most humans, sadly, do measure themselves that way). We are measured (in part) by what we do with those incomes, for God’s glory. And one of the clear commands he gives us is to be generous in helping the needy. Jesus spoke powerfully on this when he said, “whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). In the Bible’s many directives to help the needy, God has given what our reaction to income inequality should be.
Which is the exact opposite of the solution being proposed by power-hungry politicians and some well-meaning Christians.
They believe that in order to fix wealth disparity that the government must intervene in a combination of ways, whether it’s raising the minimum wage to some new arbitrary number or through a host of programs, taxes, and regulations that redistribute wealth from one group of citizens to another. (And, by the way, only further exacerbate the very income inequality they claim to want to fix anyway. That’s another article for another time, though.)
Never forget that government at its core is force. Coercion. If you do not follow its laws, they will confiscate your property, haul you to prison, or both. So when it passes a law that takes from one group to give to another, there is no choice. There is only force.
This is wrong.
In the well-known story of the “Rich Young Ruler” (Matthew 19:16-30), Jesus famously tells him to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. The young man, of course, rejects this command and slinks away distressed, trapped in his love of money.
Jesus then says, “See, this is problem with society. The greed of the wealthiest one percent. We need Caesar take that scoundrel’s money and give it to the less fortunate. Then all things will be right in the world.”
Okay, Jesus didn’t really say that. That was instead a summary of the narrative we incessantly hear from the Big-Government Disciples ruling from Washington.
Jesus’ actual response to the young man’s actions was to deliver a lecture on the dangers of wealth. He didn’t claim that man had too much money and that the government must take it from him to give to the needy. Jesus let him keep his earthy wealth, though he remained in spiritual poverty. Jesus didn’t take away his choice.
This is the pattern throughout the Bible. Giving should be done out of a generous heart, not compulsion (2 Cor 9:7). Again, Jesus said, “whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” He didn’t say, “whatever you did to lobby a government to pass laws to take from the wealthy to give to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Jesus’ focus is on you. And me. Not on government.
It is our responsibility to be charitable. (Though some restrictions do apply — see 1 Tim 5:9-16 for an example.) Hearts are softened, communities are strengthened, and God is glorified when we help those truly in need. None of these is true, however, when we rely on government to be charitable on our behalf. In fact, government-forced charity breeds envy and resentment, hardening hearts, weakening communities, and glorifying no one. If our Lord were walking the Earth today, I believe he’d be appalled at how much we have outsourced our biblical mandate to a government—especially one that is corrupt, power-hungry, and increasingly secular.
You really want to respond in a biblical way to income inequality? Then expel the cold, corrupt government middle-man from the business of forcing wealth redistribution and wage hikes, fostering a society driven by envy, and instead give your time and money directly to those in need, fostering a society built on generosity.
And glorifying God.