The Myth of the Noble Poor
A mirror arrived at the office this week and what I saw in its reflection was not pretty. It was Wednesday afternoon. Hurrying to finish the book for the Dead Theologian’s Society, striving with the Greek text of James 4, and trying manfully to get it all done in time for a long overdue office meeting with Michael Ann, I didn’t have a moment to spare. That was when the mirror arrived and his name was "Graham." (Of course that's not his real name). In he walked, 450Lbs of naked and very sweaty need, covered thinly in a filthy wife-beater vest, and soiled as soiled can be old jeans. He was looking for money, though he said he wasn’t (they always do), his story was tall (they always are), and there he stood, desperate, looking for help. I listened as he told me about his "tight-spot." The details didn't all add up; in these situations they rarely ever do. The more he said, the more I tried not to imagine him doing the rounds of all the local churches telling them all the larger than life story. But honestly, it was difficult. By the time he finished, whatever else was true, I knew one thing for certain: here was a man standing at the end of a long series of poor choices. What to do? With a phone call, I verified as much of his story as I could and covered his bill from Christ Covenant's benevolence fund. As he left my office, I pondered the myth of the noble poor -- the kind of poor people we like to help -- the kind who through no fault of their own, and despite their very best efforts to the contrary, have fallen into hard times. Such, poor people rarely exist, and if we spend too much time looking for them, we will find ourselves unwilling to help anyone. We will look down our noses at them and think something wretched, like: "Well they are in a hole of their own digging!" or "No point helping them, they'll not learn anything from a handout!" Such just won't pass the "white-glove" test, and their poverty will never be noble enough to deserve a wise hand-up. That's when Graham became a mirror, and in him I saw myself standing before God. When God extended mercy towards me, was their anything noble about my poverty, or yours? What does Paul say?
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8, ESV)
Think of what Paul says of the objects of God’s astounding love. We were weak, unable to lift a finger to better our spiritual state. We were ungodly, hostile to God (in verse 10 Paul calls us enemies of God). And we were sinners, lawless, guilty, rebels, and so were filthy, vile, and wretched in His sight. In Romans chapter 1, Paul tells us, “The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Make no mistake, this is us, and this is God’s “normal” response to such flagrant and appalling evil. In a moral universe, sinners have no right to grace, no claim for mercy, no way of escape. If God has lumped Adam and his fallen race up with the devil and cast us all into hell, it would not have cost a flicker of consternation among the angels. Psalm 97:1-3 would have been their song, and they would have rejoiced to see fire go out from the presence of the Lord to consume His adversaries. And yet, there we stood, at the end of a long list of poor choices, and yet God loved us, inexplicably, extravagantly, wholeheartedly. No expense is spared. No reluctance is felt. Christ is sent out and down for us. First, He becomes flesh. Then He becomes Sin. And before it is all said and done, He becomes cursed for us (Gal 3:13).
Because of Him, we have peace, 24/7 access to the Royal Court of grace, the hope of future glory, and joy in the face of current trials (Romans 5:1-3)-- none of which can change the fact of God’s love. So, come to Him this morning. Come as you are, with your need. There is neither reason to minimize nor to exaggerate your difficulty as if you needed to play on divine heart strings. Come just as you are, confident that where sin has abounded, grace has already much more abounded. God is already your Father. He has made all your needs His very own concern. If even the pagans provide for their own children (1Timothy 5:8), can you not be even more confident of God?