The debate about compassion and loving our neighbor that the Church faces right now doesn’t center on whether or not we should be actively involved in alleviating human suffering, but whether or not the Church should partner with government to accomplish this task. Let me make this point: Those of us who oppose the government solution do so, not because we are indifferent to the suffering of the poor, but because we believe the government will make the situation worse.
Not only do I believe that government intervention will make things worse, I also believe that it robs people of the choice and the opportunity to actually show compassion in a meaningful way. When the government takes money from me through taxes and uses that money to provide something (food, health care, housing) for someone else, I have not shown one ounce of compassion. In other words I have not fulfilled the commandment to love my neighbor. What has happened is that I have been coerced, through the threat of fines and jail time, to part with some of the money I have earned. This is done through taxes. I have no say in how that money will be used, whether it will be used to make bombs or provide food, I simply comply to the demands of the State or face the penalties.*
When the government takes my money, which I have earned by using the talents and opportunities God has given me, it robs me of the choice of how to use that money. I also believe that it prevents me from choosing to show compassion to those in need. Thus the government becomes an obstacle that I have to overcome in order to show real love and compassion to people.
I know what you are thinking, “Steele, you have plenty of money, the government doesn’t take all of your money. You are free to choose to use that money in a compassionate way.” This is true up to a point. There are also the real costs of living to consider and the debts that need to be paid. The reality is that I only have a limited amount of money that the government can be generous with before I become one of those in need.
Sure it would be nice if everyone could have health care coverage, affordable housing, and food to eat, but that is not going to be the reality in this world of sin that we live in. It also needs to be pointed out that the government produces none of these things. For the government to provide for one group of people it must take from another group of people. Do you really want to tell me that is fair? It is wrong for the government to take from me to give to you, even if you are in great need. It is never right to coerce people to do something, even if that something is a good thing. Coercion doesn’t become right just because the government, or even the Church, does it.
Since the government doesn’t produce anything all it can do is coerce people to give what they have produced and give that to someone else. It is impossible to keep taking from one group of people, sooner or later there comes a breaking point. The government can only take so much before those who are being robbed become the very ones who need help.
If you want to follow the way of coercion that is your choice, but I will promise you that it will not lead to the transformation of society you hope to see. The reason it won't lead to transformation is because it is always wrong to take from one person and give to other. Instead of leading to transformation it will lead to resentment and hostility.
The way of transformation is the way of compassion. It happens as individuals choose to give, and at times sacrifice, the blessings God has given to them in order to help those in need. Compassion transforms the person who gives, and provides the opportunity for the person who receives to be transformed as well.
Jesus taught that at the final judgment it would be our individual acts of compassion that would identify us as being part of His kingdom. Consider what Jesus said about the righteous:
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25: 37-40; ESV)
Notice that the righteous choose to show individual and simple acts of compassion. We need to remember that at its core the problem of suffering are individual people who are in desperate need, and at the end of the day no amount of money is going to make a difference. That is why the personal component is so important, and no government program or agency can offer real compassion.
It is interesting to note that these people were not out to serve Jesus by serving people, but rather they were simply being themselves. The righteous had been so transformed by the love of God and so given over to following Jesus that showing compassion was actually part of their nature. May I become that type of person. So in the end the righteous served, not because they were coerced but because they were moved by compassion. It is that reality that revealed them as true citizens of the Kingdom.
* I am not against paying taxes. The government is necessary and there are certain functions that it needs perform. I would also point out that when the government can raise our taxes at will then we are under a form of tyranny that our founding fathers never intended us to accept.