You don’t have to look very far to find evidence of the pain and brokenness that runs rampant in society. Whether in the classroom, watching the news, or simply strolling down State Street, we soon encounter issues of poverty, income inequality, homelessness, etc. A brief survey of the New Testament quickly reveals God’s heart for the poor and underprivileged. In 1 John 3:17-18, John writes, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Repeatedly confronted with the pain and need deeply ingrained in society, we desire to respond with compassionate action. Socialist policies aimed at reducing poverty and bridging the gap between income inequality appear to present a reasonable and compassionate solution. However, in our desire to honor God and love the vulnerable in our community, we often misunderstand the character of Biblical compassion. This compassion stretches far deeper and requires a love more radical than that of any government solution.
Authentic compassion in the Bible is offered freely and willingly. Paul admonishes the Corinthians saying, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (1 Corinthians 9:7). Compulsion rests at the center of any socialist policy targeting poverty relief. Government is coercive at its very nature. Compassion that is extracted through taxation under threat of force does not fit the biblical definition of generosity. Those who argue that there is a biblical mandate for socialism often reference the early church in Acts, where believers “had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” However, this passage describes a community of Christians freely offering their property to one another as they strove to portray Christ to the world. The early church did not preach the benefits of Roman welfare or promote socialistic understandings of fighting poverty. Government did not play a significant role in this beautiful model of compassion.
Further, biblical compassion requires a personal and spiritual connection with the recipient. Compassion in the Bible does not include a complicated bureaucracy within which each person is little more than a name on a file. It does not mean simply filling out a tax form knowing part of your earnings will fund welfare programs to provide for people you most likely will never see. Biblical compassion has a deeply personal and intimate quality. Jesus did not advocate for more government programs, but instead bent down in the dirt and healed. He knelt beside an underprivileged woman living a life of protitution, looked into her eyes, and told her her sins are forgiven. This type of compassion requires relationship and time. Effective solutions include a personal knowledge of an individual’s situation. Socialist policies assume that their recipients are completely uniform and do not take into account that people are unique and no two issues are exactly the same. Nor do they reckon with the deep spiritual needs of their beneficiaries. Filling out a tax form or voting for more socialist policies strips us of any personal responsibility or involvement. Biblical compassion demands a greater sacrifice and a more radical love.
Our world cries out in pain and need. In our desire to respond compassionately, we must choose to resist the draw of socialist solutions and engage theses issues with true, biblical compassion. Only then can we offer the depth of love required to change and transform lives.