I recently caught up with an old friend, and we got to talking as though we’d been talking forever. Our conversations are always deep, so I thought to share with her something that had been shared on my family group on Whatsapp. It was something that actually raised some emotions, judging by the strong differences in opinions. I was sure I knew what she would say, because she is one of the strongest Christians I know.
This is the post:
“I have not eaten the whole day because I had no money. Fortunately, I met my pastor and asked him for some money, at least, $1 (N300) for amala and ewedu. The pastor prayed for me instead, and told me God will make a way. He added that he would have given me if he had any money.
“As he removed his handkerchief while he was leaving, his $200 (N60,000) dropped and he didn’t notice. Should I give the money back to the pastor or is it God who made a way for me?”
Okay, I don’t know if you have seen this post before, but my friend actually said it was something that they had discussed at a Bible Study in her Church just the previous Sunday. How uncanny. So what do you think my strong Christian friend’s opinion was on the matter? To give back the money or take it as God’s provision?
She said she would keep it, because she was desperate and poor. And she defended her position by saying that trying to say you will give it back is just kidding yourself, because if you were really starving and desperate, you would thank God and take the money. I was shocked, to say the least. I am not saying that my view point is right here; this is definitely a big puzzle for any spiritual person among us.
My contribution to the debate in our family chat was, “I would call his attention to it, and perhaps God would compel him to hand it over, since he said he would give if he had. If he doesn’t, I would be within my rights to call him a liar.” Was I being overly idealistic? Maybe I have never been so hungry that my spiritual gauge would not be able to function. I already know that when I am madly hungry, my mind doesn’t utilise up to 10% of its potential. When the debate kept up, I submitted my final thought on the matter: “It remains that whatever is not done of faith is sin. Let each man judge for himself and keep his conscience clear before God.”.
That remains my stance today. However, my friend’s position, and the discussion that followed, has caused me to ask the question that is the title of this post, “Which is the greater evil, poverty or crime?”
We really have to be careful how we judge, and especially how we judge those who have been oppressed, victimized and those who are impoverished and destitute. The saying goes, “desperate times call for desperate measures,” and unless we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, we can not make a righteous judgement on their actions, no matter how obvious it is to us.
However, what I see is that society treats crime (actions done against the laws of man) as a greater evil than poverty (which is a social problem caused by greed). The prisons are filled with people who made hard decisions while facing desperate circumstances. Those who sought help legitimately, were turned away, shunned, abused or even further oppressed. For example, the woman that is compelled to sell her body for sex to provide for her children, who is not only judged as immoral, but lazy and wicked for wrecking homes, and treated as if she is less than human.
There are lots and lots of examples that show that we actually think breaking the law, however small it is, is a greater wickedness than refusing to show kindness to someone in need. Although we justify ourselves for not being able to help, we quickly condemn others for the actions they took to ensure their own survival. We do not show that we value their lives at all. If we truly exalt the human life as supreme, then why would we subject people to live daily on the verge of suicide?
I put this question to my friend. If it is okay for you to steal because you are desperately poor, why is it wrong for someone who is desperately poor and no longer wants to continue with the struggle of life to kill themselves? What makes stealing to survive less evil than taking one’s own life, and thus sparing the world of your existence and the crimes you might otherwise commit to stay alive? She stumbled on that one, but she eventually reasoned that suicide was worse because only God can give and take life.
That is the classic Christian defence for the sanctity of life. But if your life is not tortured, and you are not raped everyday by your own father, and you are not battered and oppressed by those who claim to love you, and you are not so sick that every breath hurts, how can you say that the person in that situation is wrong to “steal” their life, if given the chance? What sort of life and existence is that? Why should such be preserved, and why should the person wearing those shoes not have a right to decide whether they should continue to walk in them or not?
What do you think? Which is the greater evil? Why is suicide under desperation worse than stealing or lying under desperation? Is it because you live another day to ask for forgiveness, and then face the crossroads again and live with the guilt and shame of constant failure? Is it because one is a final judgment, and the other is simply a compromise?
I don’t really know the answers here, but I would submit that poverty and oppression are the greater evil. Therefore, it is needful to take this into account when seeking to pass a legal or a righteous judgment against those who commit crimes under such circumstances. The existence of poverty and oppression in our world is a testament and a judgment against all of us. If we would do more to address this great evil, then it won’t be long before crimes cease to be the burden they are on civil society.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too. Please use the comment section to drop your two cents. And remember to share, thanks!