|A Cruciform Press book|
I am Mexican. My country is a country of contrasts, a country in which you can find the richest man on earth, as well as people living in extreme poverty not so far from the richest neighborhoods in the most important cities.
I drive to my parents’ home once a week to have lunch with them, and every week, in the same corner, I see a poor family selling candy or some times just reaching their hand to beg for some money. The mom is always holding a baby in her “rebozo”, while the “big kids” (around seven years old) are most of the time selling gum to the car drivers when the stop light is on. But my eyes always look for the little one, a toddler. He is always in a corner playing happily with empty milk cartons, or old toys. Every week, my heart aches. Many times we have brought food for them, or clothes, but there are always these questions in my heart, how can we really help those in need when you see them every where? Is there a real solution to all this poverty around me? Whom do we help? The family on the street, the friends that are going through hard (real hard) times, the children in a far away land with no drinking water? What is the Christian response to poverty?
Aaron Armstrong has written a book, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, The New Creation and The End of Poverty, that has spoken directly to my heart. He has in few pages, answered many of these questions.
“Resources and awareness and policies are important, but poverty is not fundamentally about any of these things. The root of poverty is sin.” (p.9)
The author understands the gospel’s message well. He knows that the bad news always precede the good, so he keeps on saying,
“¨[O]ur good faith efforts to address legitimate questions of poverty and injustice must never lose sight of the fact that poverty will persist as long as the heart of man is ruled by sin.”. (p.10)
This book is one that reminds us of the hope that should keep us pursuing biblical solutions to poverty. Armstrong says,
“our only hope for an ultimate solution to poverty is in the return of Christ, when he will put an end once and for all to sin, suffering and death, and bring out the New Creation.” (p.11)
And that is when I take a deep breath and keep on reading. Armstrong takes us back to Genesis, the Paradise, the Fall, and the curse that came as a result of it.
“Whereas the curse upon Eve is primarily about interpersonal relationships, Adam’s curse spreads outward to all economic life… Prosperity will always be challenging and elusive. The very materials and processes we work with to try to create prosperity will resist us. And it will continue like this until the day we die.” (p.18)
But physical poverty, as terrible as it is, is not the ultimate poverty. Armstrong says,
“A fallen world inhabited exclusively by sinners; that is the essence of poverty. Sin, and the effects of sin throughout creation, is the Poverty from which all other poverty flows” (p.23)
This is the heart of the book, this is what makes this book so important; Awaiting a Savior goes to the root of the problem of poverty that surrounds us.
This is a book that I greatly recommend as a tool to train the young people who want to come and do missions to poor countries. In Latin America, sadly to say, we receive many missionaries, many youth groups that come every summer to help build churches, and paint walls, and sing children’s songs in poor areas; but we need to go deeper, we need to go to the root of poverty: sin in the heart man.
Armstrong deals, then, with the root of poverty, but also with the root of our inability to respond in a God-glorifying way towards poverty.
“Sin thus not only causes poverty but also poisons our attitude toward those suffering within it.”
We try to help, but very often we loose sight of our real aim:
“Ultimately, poverty can only be addressed at the heart level, one person at a time, s salvation through the shed blood of Christ pushes back against the fall of man. The ultimate answer to poverty is circumcised hearts that know the God who forms and keeps covenant with poor and undeserving sinners.” (p.47)
Chapter Five, was probably my favorite. Armstrong reminds us of the Sermon of the Mountain and how “The gifts of love always precede the demands of love”. Oh yes, Grace, amazing Grace that reaches to the poor effectively.
“That is what is so devastating about the Sermon on the Mount. It starts with grace…”
And as the paragraph continued, it brought me to my knees in prayer, conviction and thanksgiving. Grace is the starting point; it was there where Jesus found me. It is there where we should start if we want to effectively help the poor among us until the day we see Jesus.
Come, Lord Jesus!
*I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book by the author for the purpose of this review. I was asked to write an honest review.
This sounds like a good book. The excerpts you shared are so true and thought provoking — often our response to poverty isn't what it should be because we focus on the externals.
Thanks, Becky, for the review and the excerpts form the book. This does sound like something our students might benefit from reading before they go back to the orphanage in Zambia that they worked at this past summer.
I added a link to your review at my every-Saturday feature, Saturday Review of Books becuse I thought it was a book and a review that would benefit others:
Please feel free to link to your book reviews at Semicolon any Saturday.
Thank you so much for sharing your heart about the people you encountered and also the book recommendation. I live in West Virginia where you see similar things sometimes. Driving past a subdivision with large brick homes yesterday I was struck by the dilapidated trailer homes I passed and wondered how on earth people who live in them survive the winter. I have seen some of the same things you described in Mexico on a mission trip. I remember thinking with sheer frustration and sadness how on earth could I deal with some of the things I saw on a daily basis if I ever had the opportunity. An example was giving children worm medication and knowing full well if we came back in six months those same kids would be full of worms again. It was a really sad situation, but I had hope that I could share with them. It's like I came to the end of my human efforts and realized I gave these poor people the greatest riches, I could share the Gospel of Jesus Christ which transcended any earthly suffering and pain that I could not cure. I am really looking forward to reading the book, God bless you Sister.
Thanks for the review, Becky. This book sounds very good. We completed a series in Sunday school on mercy ministry. Our church is praying about ways to expand how we serve the community with the gospel and practical assistance.
Thank you dear Becky. The premise of this book is what makes the difference between a biblical worldview and a secular one. How we view human nature makes all the difference. As Christians we know that this world is not what is should be. We eagerly await the redemption of creation — we await the return of our Savior. And yet, while we are, our characters ought to be marked by compassion — the kind that moves you each time you drive by that family but never an expectation that we live in a world without sin. This book looks amazing. I also loved how you weaved your thoughts and quotes together. You are a precious soul and I am thankful for you, my sister!
One day . . . I'll have to check out that book. I'm at the start of a Great Books list, so it may be awhile. 🙂 But this reminds me of something a friend of mine said (she has a PhD in Church History and specializes in the 2nd and 3rd century Church & teaches at a prominent Classical Christian school in Austin): In the Ancient Church they didn't have the idea of being “Christian,” as we do in the modern Church. Modern Christians (especially in the 1st World) tend to fuss a lot about what is or isn't appropriate entertainment, etc. while unfortunately neglecting commands to give, to not discriminate, and to love. Ancient Christians wanted to be “little Christs,” so they took more seriously the call to give up riches, to feed the poor, etc. They wanted their lives to be an imitation of His in any way that they could, so that their focus was (and sorry to use this tired phrase) what would Jesus do?
There is a lot of poverty and wealth in Texas, though definitely not to the extent that you face it. We pray for revival (it's desperately needed everywhere), and we seek to know how we can most effectively fulfill the command to not neglect the poor. My brother does film work and marketing for Seattle's Union Gospel Mission, so the issue stays in the forefront of my mind. Thanks for sharing what promises to be an excellent resource!