Ending poverty and ending death: same or different?

poverty over


I was somewhat surprised and disappointed by the response to my arguing recently in a Facebook group populated by members and friends of my denomination that as Christians we were against death and sin. This seemed to me a rather uncontroversial statement in context and was bemused by the reaction of some of my ministerial colleagues

They seemed to believe that being against something we could not hope to defeat or otherwise conquer made no sense. Being against death was taken to imply believing that human agency could banish death from the world. If one accepted that we could not hope to do so then it was suggested that it made no sense to say we were against death, despite the strong Biblical support for exactly this stance (especially but not exclusively in the Pauline corpus).

I was very struck, therefore, when preparing to preach this Sunday, at the beginning of Christian Aid Week, that Christian Aid have declared their objective to be the end of poverty. This seems to me to be a goal of a very similar nature to being dedicated to the elimination of death, especially when one considers their definition of poverty. This is the subject of a (very good) discussion paper which considers a range of approaches to the definition of poverty, before deciding to synthesise them using the concept of a “good life” (increasingly popular in recent decades under the influence of “virtue ethics”). This synthesis is summarised in the phrase: “Poverty is disempowerment and the injustices that result.” (For the paper in full see here).

My purpose is not to disagree with this approach, indeed I think it is a very good starting point for thinking about the interaction of Christian faith with politics. What I would say is that it is very difficult (for me) to see this as much more credible than an end to death. Fallen human beings in a fallen world are and will remain prey to scarcity of goods (however one understands the word “goods”) and to consequent competition over their distribution. Power relations and injustice seem to me to be ineradicable until the kingdom of God is fully realised, that realisation being promised at the end of time with the resurrection to eternal life.

I claim to know neither when nor how this consummation of God’s redemptive work will take place  but I do contend (with the apostle Paul) that without faith in it the Christian faith is empty and absurd and we are to be pitied.

I fully support and endorse Christian Aid’s objectives and on that basis am happy to lend my voice to advocating for it (despite my reservations about some of its campaigning). I think that saying that we are for the eradication, not merely the amelioration, of poverty in the wide sense that word is given in Christian Aid’s literature, is a powerful and vital aspect of witnessing to the gospel.

In saying we want and expect the end of disempowerment and injustice we are, in effect, saying that the realisation of our political and social ends depends on the eschatological action of God, that no human social and political action will ever be sufficient to realise the justice we seek. To that message I say, “amen”.

1 comment
  1. I don’t know about Christian Aid, but for me it is Extreme poverty that I want to end.
    Extreme poverty is the condition that the World bank describes as having to live on 1.25 US Dollars a day. That is the equivalent of £1 sterling .

    Currently , something like 1.4 billion people live under these conditions. It has recently been reduced to 1.2 billion as the latest estimate, but this is almost a quarter of the world’s population . However, 30 yrs ago, this would have been over half. There is no reason why we should allow this state to continue- if we can halve extreme poverty in under 30 yrs, we could eliminate eliminate it in the next 30.

    I would encourage everyone to Google ‘ Global poverty Project and learn more- book a presentation, take direct action is lots of differnt ways. Don’t just watch this happen , do something to make it happen.

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