Some years ago our family faced a series of crises that left us temporarily unable to cope on our own. My doctor prescribed anti-depressants, but I never took them.
Instead, God intervened, sending a veritable army of brothers and sisters in Christ to help us. Families with six or seven kids marched in with full-course dinners. Neighboring churches showed up with coolers full of frozen food to stock our freezer. Firewood appeared from nowhere and teenagers came and stacked it. Homeschool moms collected hand-me-downs to keep my growing boys warm all winter.
The generosity of the church was complemented by the generosity of the community. School personnel made sure my children had supplies. And in a twist I never thought would be part of my life experience, instead of taking stars off the Christmas tree to buy gifts for a family in need, our family became part of the stars.
Please understand that I’m not telling this story to receive pity, but because it represents the sort of small triumph that occurs in communities across the country every day when in the midst of suffering, the hearts of friends, neighbors—and even strangers—are moved to do what they can to meet needs in a completely spontaneous, autonomous, and authentic way.
My experience underscores why the government cannot—and should not claim to be able to—replace the role God has given us as Christians to care for others. And it has affirmed for me that charity is a personal responsibility, not one politicians should use to shame us into adopting programs funded through force.
The fact is, Jesus calls us to a life of compassion and charity in a real and concrete way. Our faith is rich in this kind of imagery: Mary breaking her alabaster jar to anoint Jesus with special ointment, Jesus kneeling to wash His disciples’ dirty feet.
I know how Peter must have felt at that moment—unworthy, humble, confused, but loved beyond measure. I know that the Christmas Eve surprise of a special feast and warm bathrobes for our entire family was a lot different than taking a government check out of an envelope.
Charity is inherently individual—poignantly personal and real. Acts of charity transform those who give and those who receive. As someone who has seen both sides, I can tell you it is much more real—and life-changing—to receive from the Body of Christ than to receive from the government. I can see how—as always—God used all things for good in our family’s situation that difficult year, building within our church and community more interdependence, awareness, and compassion.
While Scripture may seem to lend itself for political use—and let’s not forget that even Satan used Scripture to illustrate his points—we need to listen for God’s voice. Was Jesus speaking to political systems or to us as individuals? Has God ever asked us to build a bigger government? Does He really want us to pass our own personal responsibility to the poor, the hungry, the disabled, the lonely over to an impersonal monolithic bureaucracy with all the waste that implies?
Or should we hear God’s words as He intended, applying them to our own personal lives that we might do even more to help those closer to home so that at least a few—and perhaps a multitude—will turn their hearts to God rather than the government?