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 25:40
There’s been a lot of disagreement this election season about the extent of the government’s responsibility to care for people who are in need. This question generates a lot of passion on both sides. Personally, I see some truth on both sides. In this wealthy nation I find it morally unacceptable that some people lack adequate food, shelter and medical care, and that our economy and our tax system exacerbate the gap between rich and poor. I also think that government assistance can be dehumanizing and inefficient, that the people who need most help are not always the people who get the most help, and that people need not only food, shelter and medical care but also work and dignity. I have friends, folks whom I see loving God and their neighbors, who fall both on the Republican and the Democratic sides of the welfare argument.
However strongly we disagree about what the government should do, our own responsibility is far less controversial. Concerned that too many people’s needs are going unmet? Go out and start meeting those needs personally, or as part of a church or community. Concerned that government is taking over a helping role that more rightly belongs to churches and individual Christians? Go out and start filling that helping role.
Off-the-grid living prepares us to offer help sustainably. We may or may not have money to contribute in times of economic uncertainty. We always have the skills that we have learned—scratch cooking, food growing, home repair, living more with less. These skills allow us to grow, make or fix things for others as well as ourselves.
This kind of assistance can meet the needs of people’s spirits as well as their bodies. As well as sharing our surplus, we can ask our neighbors to help us in our work so that they can be givers as well as receivers. We can teach them skills to use and to pass on. We can give them, not only practical help, but friendship. We can treat them as we want to be treated in our own times of need, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
If we do this wholeheartedly we might even find some neighborly way of resolving our disagreements about public policy and public assistance.