I have lived in places considered to be some of the poorest on earth and I have also lived in places considered to be among the richest and most affluent. I have known what it feels like to walk for miles in search of water in one part of the world and yet in another part, walk on streets washed down with drinkable water every morning. Living among those considered to be the world’s poor, I knew what it felt like to have to scramble for survival every day. Among the affluent, I got to experience the apparent ease that comes with having plenty to meet one’s daily needs so much so that one can become oblivious to the realities of other people’s struggles for existence.
During several years when I worked on international programs to alleviate poverty, I became acquainted with the many descriptions of the world’s poor along with the long list of ills they suffered – poor health, lack of education, inadequate nutrition, the “bottom billion” and so on and so forth. Yet as I look back through my experiences over the years with those labelled by the world as either poor or rich, I have found a very different kind of poverty that is largely unrecognized but which affects millions all over the world regardless of how much money they have in the bank.
The highest level of poverty I have observed is among those who seem unable to put their faith in God. Such a person will go to great lengths to justify their position including seemingly clever arguments, ignoring the obvious fact that on the day they die, none of those arguments will count. Such a person can be quite rich and even highly educated by the standards of the world, yet unable to do something as simple as believe in God whose presence is visibly manifested around them. As a result, they go through life never knowing the inner peace that comes with having one’s soul be at rest in Christ and face the grim finality of death with no reassurance of their destiny. In other words, regardless of their worldly status, they die poor with absolutely nothing to show for their time on earth. As Jesus said… For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36
Another kind of strange poverty I have observed is the inability to give to others of our time and resources. Our current prevailing culture means that even as we gather more and more we seem to have less and less to give to others. When everything we do and all of our pursuits are centered around our own lives, we live a life of abject poverty regardless of how much we may possess. One of the greatest source of true wealth is to give to others. A handful of the world’s so called “richest” people have come to this realization and devised ways to give away the wealth they spent their lives amassing. Nothing we can give to our children can equal the time spent with them. Giving up some of our time for others requires a sacrifice but to not do that is to live a self-centered life which only serves to magnify problems we face in our minds and minimize those faced by others. The more outward looking we are, the bigger the life we live. Conversely, the self-centered life is a small life.
There is no better example than the fact that the richest person in all of eternity, Jesus Christ, gave up His wealth in exchange for our poverty when He chose to enter into our life of struggle by coming to earth. He gave up the riches of timelessness to enter into our prison of time and then broke the limitation placed on our existence by death by defeating the powers of darkness on the Cross. Jesus gave up everything so that we may truly live. To choose a life outside of Him is to live in quintessential poverty and death.