We’ve all seen them, especially those of us in a big city. They are the homeless or destitute on the street corner with the cardboard sign that says any number of variations of the following:
“Disabled and Homeless, God Bless”
“Will work for food”
They walk inches away from drivers in a line of cars, a captive audience only because they have to stop for the red light. Everyone always seems occupied, on their cell phones or looking in their rearview mirrors – anything not to look them in the eye. I see them walking along downtown Houston in the dead of winter and I wonder which is colder: the freezing wind, or the icy judgment and contempt of others around them. I’ve had a few conversations with friends about why society views the homeless and why there seems to be little, if any charity. The answers seem to boil down to one of these reasons:
1) Why would I give? They’ll just use it for drugs.
2) Why can’t they work? They are just looking for a hand-out.
3) They could be fake: They could be very well-off, someone posing as homeless just to scam people. (This sounds far-fetched, but it does happen).
Now, I don’t condone laziness and I don’t believe that those who don’t make an effort to work should sponge off of a society that does. After all, the Bible does say those who don’t work, don’t eat.
“For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10)
Likewise, I certainly don’t want to support someone’s drug habit. I mean, I’ve been cornered at a book store by someone with a story so far-fetched that even I didn’t believe her. So I understand these reasons.
Yet as a Christian, we can’t ignore the very clear teaching of giving to the poor. I know I am blessed to have a roof over my head. I also know that when I am confronted with poverty I’m also confronted with a choice I need to make. Even knowing that the beggar probably could work on his own or that he may use the money for drugs, I still feel a tinge of guilt when I pass him up…also for good reasons:
1) The Bible never says we are to judge the predicament of another. We could suspect that they will use the money for drugs or alcohol…but do we know that they will? Can we prove it? Is it our job to make this conclusion or is it simply our job to give?
2) The Bible says that there is such a thing as angels among us. It tells us that it is possible to be tested in this area when it speaks of “Angels unawares”
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
An interesting thing happened to me a few years ago. I had to run to the post office for my boss, as I do from time to time. Thinking that I wouldn’t be long, all I grabbed was my license and keys. No cell phone, no money, nothing. I didn’t realize I was sitting below E on the gas tank until I had to make my way back to the office in very slow traffic.
Needless to say, I searched everywhere in my car for coins I could find for gas. That’s when I saw a lady about my age coming my way. I explained the circumstance and politely asked her for some change.
She could have drilled a hole through my face with the look of contempt she gave me.
Which really surprised and shocked me. I mean, I was well-dressed and had a car. Wasn’t it obvious I was “one like her’? Wasn’t it apparent that all I needed was a few quarters to get me back to the office? Even if I wasn’t, would it be far-fetched to decide to bless someone?
It was a wake-up call to me, and suddenly I knew a little of what it must feel like to be homeless. Sometimes I wonder if we refuse to give from society’s own indoctrination and attitudes towards the poor, or if it’s just because we want to have a sense of superiority.
So what’s the answer? Is it to give to charities that you know will use the money wisely? Is it to give the product of their need (food, a blanket, etc.) rather than money itself? What are your thoughts?