Sometimes, my devotions send me in the wrong direction. If you read the Daily Bread devotional booklet, you might remember the one entitled “Jesus in Disguise” by James Banks. (August 13, 2019). Mr. Banks told the story of his son participating in a “homeless simulation.” He basically camped out on the city streets for a couple to days to help identify with homeless people. That sounds very noble, but I wasn’t so convinced and so my mind wandered. The point of the devotional was to be like Jesus and care for people. That I agree with, but the real issue we have is why are people homeless and does camping out with them really help you identify the problem?
So I go to the word to see what does the Bible have to say about this subject? Here are a couple of Biblical references to see God’s mind on this issue.
Deuteronomy 15:7, If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother.
Psalm 41:1, Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.
And there are many others text we could reference here. God expects His people to be compassionate. He expects us to help those who due to circumstances beyond their control need a hand up. God also says…
2 Thessalonians 3:10, For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.
Proverbs 6:6, Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise.
God expects those who can take care of themselves to do so and to have the wisdom to plan for the future.
God isn’t sending us mixed messages here. He expects people to work hard and not depend on others for their existence. He also expects us to help those who are helpless. We see both sides expressed to us in the book of Galatians.
Galatians 6:2, Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:4-5, But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load.
It seems to me that the issue within modern Christianity is that we are not addressing the right problem. In Jesus day, people were poor or even homeless because of circumstances beyond their control. A widow in the ancient cultures may well lose all. An orphan had no one to care for him and thus become a beggar. Drought and famine could take the prosperous farmer to a state of homelessness, as could injury or disease. It seems to me that we need to realize that the poor and the homeless of Jesus’ day wasn’t exactly the same as in our modern culture. Our problem is drugs and alcohol from which homelessness is a result. The vast majority of the homeless in our culture are homeless because of drugs. Yes, there are some who become homeless because of adverse circumstances not of their own doing, but that is a very, very small number. If you watched the documentary “Seattle is Dying,” you can’t miss the point. Drugs are the problem. It seems to me as long as we continue to identify homelessness as the problem we are missing the real problem and so come up with the wrong solution. You will not solve the homeless problem in America until you first deal with the drug issue; and you won’t solve the drug problem until you deal with the heart problem.
So when someone “pretends” to be homeless in order to better identify with the homeless, I tend to be skeptical. Until you know the power of the drugs, the overwhelming urge to stay high, and the bodies longing for the next fix, you aren’t really identifying with the homeless. You may realize some of their hardship, but you really can’t identify. If I was homeless and someone was out there pretending to be homeless, I’d resent it. I’d feel like it was demeaning, besides the fact that it’s basically a lie! I don’t want to question this young man’s heart or his motives. I’m sure they were pure, but I feel they were misplaced.
So what can we do? Well, we can follow the Biblical mandate. Take care of our own lives first so we can care for others. Don’t covet and don’t horde. Take care of your family, don’t expect the government or the church to do so. Take care of those in the body that may need help if you can. Take care of your neighbor. Help the helpless. Realize that if we are talking drugs, alcohol or mental illness you can’t fix this. Throwing money, food, clothing or even housing at the problem won’t fix this. In fact, it may make it worse. In these cases we have to deal with the core heart issues or mental issues that are beyond physical Band-Aids.