Saturday, 29 September 2012

Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

The title of this post is the title of a book by Ronald Sider. I read an old version of this book as a teenager and it had a profound - if disturbing - effect on me. A friend of mine has recently mentioned that he is currently reading the updated version and this has got me thinking about it again.

If you're hoping for a review of the book then I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed as I can no longer remember anything about the contents. I just remember how it made me feel afterwards and the kinds of thoughts it triggered in my mind - some of which I am still living with. Basically - partly as a consequence of this book, but perhaps not entirely - I now have the following script running in my head, which in the last 20-25 years I have been unable to resolve:
  1. I obviously have more than my fair share of "stuff" - certainly on a global scale, although even in UK terms I'm pretty sure I'm above average.
  2. There are loads of other people out there in the world who have so little "stuff" that it's a struggle - if not an impossibility sometimes - for them even to survive.
  3. I haven't done anything to deserve it. OK, if I'd been a bit more lazy I would probably have less, but most of my success has been down to accidents of birth, ability and opportunity. There are lots of people out there living on the bread line (or below) who work a lot harder than I do!
  4. The logical thing for me to do therefore, would be to get rid of a lot of my "stuff", only keep whatever I decide really is my "fair share", and give the rest to those who have nothing. OK, it wouldn't change the world overnight, but it would if we all did it and it has to start somewhere!
  5. I don't want to! I could use my marriage as an excuse - and it's not a bad excuse, because I'm pretty sure my wife would have something to say about it if I suddenly decided to give away three quarters (or whatever) of everything we own! - but actually that doesn't really wash because the truth is I was just as unwilling to do this before I ever met my wife.
  6. There are obviously lots of implications involved in giving most of my stuff away. Money, to a large extent equals choice. Without money I am far more restricted in terms of what I'm able to do, where I'm able to go and even to some extent, who I'm able to spend my time with. None of these implications are insurmountable though, they just involve very big adjustments. In many respects, these adjustments could turn out to be very positive in terms of forcing me to rethink what is really important about life. 
Basically, there seem to only be 2 possible ways of resolving this dilemma:
  1. Convince myself that it's actually perfectly fine for me to keep most of what I "own" and just give away a relatively small amount of that as I do at the moment.
  1. Actually do it! Work out what I genuinely do think is a "fair" amount to hold onto and give the rest away (but only with my wife's approval of course!). This would of course be a radical and probably very difficult lifestyle adjustment and would be extremely restricting in very many ways. I think I would find the curtailment of liberty the hardest thing to get used to. It would mean sacrificing a great deal of independence and consequently depending a lot more on God and on other people. In theory at least, I believe these to be very good things, but they are also extremely scary and seem to require a massive effort which I can avoid by simply not doing this!
So in the last 20-25 years I have completely failed to plump for either of these options and have consequently had to live with this dilemma!

What do you think about this question? How do you, or have you, managed to resolve it ... ?


  1. As the friend who is currently reading the book I get the dilemma. however, maybe now would be a good time to read the updated version.

    I'm only 90 pages in but already I'm seeing a healthy balance between interpreting how God views the poor; God's desire for all of us to be able to support ourselves and work productively; the need to share with those in need and the acknowledgement that having wealth and possessions is neutral.

    I found the first chapters incredibly difficult to read but honest, truthful, factual and refreshingly compassionate in comparison to the world of 24/7 materialism that surrounds us in the UK.

    I don't live the teachings of Jesus or the law anywhere near what I could but I'm inspired to begin to make changes.

  2. I had heard that the updated version was a little more "balanced". Perhaps I should read it again at some point ...

  3. I guess you could say that "having" wealth and possessions is neutral, but what you choose to do with them isn't. One of the choices is to keep them (or "hoard" them, to use a more loaded word ... ). That isn't a neutral choice, although you might sometimes be able to justify it as the right one.

  4. Where (=who) do you give the stuff to? Someone local? Someone you approve of? To a "freecycle" group member (who may use it for their own genuine need or could be one of the few that sells it on for a profit)? Pack it into a boat and set sail for somewhere in real need? But then, do they need things even more basic in which case there's not much point casting what you have spare off to them. But then I guess that's the practicality of execution rather than arguing whether the base idea is sound. In principal I like the idea Dan, but the root cause is that we're all (in the West at least) suckered into the belief that we need far too much stuff than we genuinely do from a very early age. Tackle that problem and maybe there's a bit of hope for the future... in the meantime maybe redistributing wealth would help!

  5. PS no, Dan I haven't solved it, though we do give lots of things to charity shops such as our kiddies old toys and clothes (some of which we got from charity shops to being with so they're definitely doing the rounds!)


If you don't have an account, and you want to leave your name, select "Name/URL" from the "Comment as" drop list below. Then just enter your name (you don't have to supply a URL) and click "Continue".