Monday, August 18, 2014

"Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin..."

When I first started this blog, I said that I would use it to write about things I've learned and also things to which I don't yet have an answer. This post is one of the latter.

I think every parent knows that we can often learn some of the most surprising insights from our children.  Today as I sat in the church of one of our TEE pastors, I noticed something in the little children playing around the church. This observation combined with my current experience with our own children to get me thinking about a potentially serious issue.

At church yesterday, about five or six little children were sitting near the front of the room while the pastor was preaching.  They would sit a while, get up, go outside, eat a snack, and keep themselves occupied while the service was going on.  I noticed one little boy who had a marble - just one.  He would roll it around, bounce it across the floor, toss it outside, laugh, and go chase it.  Another boy had some kind of a small tin can about the size of a sardine can with maybe a 12-inch-long metal rod stuck through the middle of it.  It was nothing.  He sat there looking at it, turning it this way and that, spinning the can on the wire, running it across the floor, and smiling.  Before too long "metal boy" and "marble boy” were sitting beside each other.  Metal boy seemed about three years old and marble boy was probably two.  While I watched them, marble boy showed his marble to the older boy and then handed his prized ball over to him.  The older boy took the marble and smiled and handed the little boy his tin can toy.

Fast forward to that afternoon (or about any afternoon in this month).  Kyle and Ellee are playing together.  Kyle is holding his two favorite motorcycles which he lost back in the States, but were recovered and mailed to him by our family last week.  Ellee is over by the TV pulling out every toy in the bottom drawer.  Finally she settles on one of Kyle’s planes and crawls over to Mommy and me, smiling and giggling about her special toy.  Kyle hears the happy sounds and comes over to see what’s going on.  “Ellee, no, that’s my plane,” he says, trying to take it away.  “No, Kyle, let her play with it.  You haven’t been interested in those planes all day.”  After some grabbing and maybe some crying, he goes back to his motorcycles.  Snack time comes and suddenly the motorcycles are sitting alone while Kyle eats his apple.  Seeing her opportunity, Ellee speed-crawls to grab a motorcycle and the fight ensues again.

Those were my observations.  Neither one is complete, I’m sure.  I know Kyle and Ellee are sometimes very good at sharing toys and playing together nicely.  And I’m sure the two boys also have times when they don’t get along.  But my observations got me thinking about possessions.  How often do we observe that those with less are more inclined to share and those with more and more inclined to hoard?  It’s one of the things I hear most often about cross-cultural mission trips: “These people have nothing, but they insisted on feeding us and caring for our needs.”  I hear missionaries raising support for the field (and have been one) wondering why the family with the giant house can’t spare $20 per month or why the church with the million-dollar budget can’t give $100 per month to see the gospel spread.  Why is this?

The West is rich; the Majority World is poor.  The West is typically selfish; the Majority World typically shares.  Are these factors totally unrelated?  Is it only our individualist mindset vs. their collectivist mindset?  Or is it that the more we get, the less we give?

Our kids have literally a tent full of toys.  Most of them were the favorite at one point or another.  We have trouble getting rid of the toys because we remember how much he once loved them (oh my goodness, this tore me apart when we were moving to Africa and had to give away most of Kyle’s baby toys).  But eventually, the new one replaces the old one.  As a parent, I still walk through the toy store (occasionally) and think, “Oh, my kid would like that so much!”  Like our heavenly Father, I do love to “give good gifts” to my children.  I love to see the surprise and excitement when Kyle’s favorite movie character jumps off of the screen and becomes a plastic buddy in his hand to accompany him on his daily adventures.  But I wonder, am I hurting him in my good intentions?  Are my “good gifts” really “good”?

What is the problem?  Why do the kids with one toy share so happily and the kids with many fight over one?  Is it just our children’s inherent sinfulness?  Is it the selfish heart, the lust of the eyes, and the greed of human dissatisfaction?  Or is it the tyranny of the new?  Are their desires becoming ruled by the fact that they often get something new and so the new becomes “mine”?

This makes me wonder even more: Are our possessions a blessing from God or a curse from Satan?  What does Jesus call our “needs”?  He said, “ not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Mt 6:25, 32).  He doesn’t even mention a house.  He said, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20).  These are the things Jesus says we need.  He gives us much beyond that, but we must be careful to realize that they are not needs.  He never promised abundant possessions.  So when we have abundant possessions, are they really from God?  Or does God give all we need (and more) and then Satan gives us abundance to corrupt our desires and turn our hearts away from God because “you cannot serve God and money” (Mt 6:24).

I've heard it said before, and thus far have seen it consistent throughout Scripture, that Satan is not an innovator as much as he is a corruptor.  That is, he does not invent new evils or create new types of sin.  Rather, he takes those things which God has given in good measure and corrupts them towards evil purposes.  He takes the high value God has placed on man and makes man to overvalue himself.  He takes God's good intentions for sexuality and tempts man to take it outside of the boundaries God has set.  Could he also turn God's good purposes for work into overwork?  Could he not try to corrupt God's faithful provision of possessions and turn it into selfishness and idolatry and "the love of money," which is the root of all kinds of evil?

Considering these things makes me think of more questions.  What does this say about missionaries who spend all their time giving away possessions to those who have less?  Are they helping at all?  I know missionaries who do this 24/7.  It’s all they do.  Certainly it is motivated by compassion.  We love to see the African and Mexican children receiving toys, footballs, and candy.  We feel happy to know that we have given to help them.  Furthermore, we want to do these compassionate ministries as a way to show Christ’s love to the world, praying that they will see Him, believe in Him, and receive Him.  These are right motives.  But are they right actions?

What about programs like Operation Christmas Child?  We in the West celebrate Christmas by giving gifts.  We assume everyone else should, too.  Our cultural lenses let us see this in the three wise men who gave gifts to Jesus at the first “Christmas.”  Somehow, though it’s not the same.  The magi didn’t give the gifts to each other!

This is not even about creating dependence, “When Helping Hurts,” "When Charity Destroys Dignity,” or transformational development principles.  Are we helping at all?  Or are we exporting our materialism to the children of the world?  Are we “causing one of these little ones to sin”?

These are my thoughts.  I don’t have the answers.

1 comment:

  1. You raise some interesting points. And, as usual, I have a dozen thoughts. First, though, about the children. I believe some children are just naturally givers, and some are probably naturally hoarders. I had a child who wanted to give away everything they got to their friends, even their newest possessions. That may sound great, but honestly, it was slightly difficult territory to navigate. "No, you can't give away the gift you just got from your grandparents. What would they think?"

    As far as who is the most generous or who is most attached to possessions, poor or rich, that one is tough too. Some of the most generous people I know appear to have a lot of worldly possessions. But they are continually giving away. Are the gifts of possessions from God? Hmmm. Probably. We are blessed to be a blessing. But, as you say, Satan twists it into selfishness and idolatry for some people.

    Love the Christmas present comment. You are right. The maji did not give gifts to each other. I've never thought of that before.

    Your last thought, about helping actually hurting, brings to mind something Jean and I discussed yesterday. As we were window shopping in the very affluent section of historic Beaufort, SC, I mentioned to her that is really is best for me to just stay away from stores like that. If I don't see it, I don't want it or even think I might need it. She reminded me of a story in the Perspectives book I have forgotten about. Some business had gone into a poor area and put the people to work. After a short while, the workers had earned more than they needed to to satisfy their desires. So they quit coming to work. The company then gave all the employees Sears Catalogs. They all came back to work.