“From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.”
“At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality [fair balance, NRSV; or, equity], as it is written ‘He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little” [quoting Exodus 16:18].
Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 8:14-15
The former quote has become quite popular in some circles since Barbara West quoted it when she asked Joe Biden a question about Obama’s supposed Marxism.
There is something quite healthy about Marx’s point. Indeed, there is something quite biblical about it…sort of.
Paul writes something similar and even grounds it in God’s distribution of manna in the wilderness. When God distributes wealth (manna), he intends to supply the needs of the impoverished and those who have too much share what they have with those who have too little. God provides every blessing in abundance and blessed people scatter those gifts to the poor (2 Corinthians 8:8-9, quoting Psalm 112:9). God’s creative intent did not design poverty and the kingdom of God–whether Israel (Deuteronomy 15:4) or the Jesus community (Acts 4:34)–should have no needy among them.
Within the community of God this sharing is voluntary. Giving to the poor in both Israel and the Jesus’ community was a choice. It was not violently coerced. Marx, however, was willing to employ violence in his pursuit of economic justice. In addition to the quote that heads this post, Karl Marx also said, “The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”
The kingdom of God, hopefully embodied in Jesus’ church, willingly and generously gives so that there is equity. This does not mean there is no private property or that some will not have more than others. Rather, it means that everyone has what they need. Disciples of Jesus share their wealth, sell their possessions to give to the poor, and announce good news to the poor. They do this out of the riches of the grace God has supplied rather than out of duty, threat, or coercion. Unfortunately, and admittedly too true of me, disciples often do not trust God sufficiently to share their abundant resources with the needy so that those who have too little have enough.
But we move too quickly when we say that it is purely voluntary. The Torah regulated Israel’s treatment of the poor. It did not coerce lending to the poor, but there were legal protections for the poor and legal provisions for the needy that hindered and even restricted the open-ended growth of wealth.
The law required the cancellation of debts every seven years. This hindered the wealthy from exploiting the poor through interest rates and permanent indebtedness. I wonder how many credit cards college students would receive in the mail if every seven years their debts were wiped clean. This legal provision regulated financial predators. The return of the land to original families at Jubilee prevented the rich from unlimited wealth through the acquisition of property. Generational wealth based on land ownership was limited. The Jubillee regulation was partly intended to hinder the acquisition of land to limitlessly enrich a particular family.
Israel’s example of how government can regulate wealth and protect the poor provides some fodder for discussion. I tend to think unrestrained capitalism is a problem, but neither do I find socialism or Marxism particularly beneficient to the poor or a discouragement to elitist luxury. Humanity is “naturally” (“by nature” through our sarx) evil, covetous, and greedy whether in a capitalist or socialist society.
Yet, government, according to Romans 13, is ordained by God to protect the innocent and punish evil. Economic injustice, as the prophets of Israel make clear, is an evil. Given the systemic evil and greed within the structures of society (whether capitalist or socialist), I think government should play a role in restraining greed, pursuing economic justice [e.g., protecting the poor from predatory practices that prey upon their circumstances], and assisting the poor.
I am not a specialist in economics. In fact, I have no doubt that my ignorance is much greater than my knowledge. I wish I knew how to pursue economic justice in American culture. I know I don’t have the answers. I tend to think a restrained capitalism is the best system and can accomplish the greatest good for the poor, but I don’t feel myself qualified to determine whose economic policies, McCain or Obama, are best. I wish I knew though I believe both have a heart and interest in protecting the poor from exploitation.
I do not intend my blog to become a place for political partisanship. My interests are larger than the election of a particular President. I am not advocating for either on this issue. I can see it both ways and I am uncertain about which economic policy is best for the poor and growing the economy.
I am bothered by those who seem to think that only Obama cares for the poor or middle class. I am bothered by those who will vote for McCain simply because they want to keep their money. I tend to think that McCain and Obama are fighting over a middle ground of some kind–protect the poor, assist the poor, but do not punish the wealthy simply because they are wealthy.
I am not even an economic specialist when it comes to my own lifestyle. I “tithe plus,” but it still seems inadequate to me. I drive cars over 100,000 miles and don’t buy new cars. I shop first at Goodwill. But it still seems inadequate to me. I am rich…and I certainly don’t make anything near $250,000.
I suppose my point is this. Disciples of Jesus share their wealth. Government has a function to punish evil, including restraining the evil of economic greed and injustice. How that should play out is uncertain to my mind. I simply don’t know, but I don’t have to know.
What I think I know, however, is that disciples of Jesus spread their wealth around and give their gifts from God to the poor. This is my point, a reminder to myself and perhaps to others.
Whoever is elected, McCain or Obama, my allegiance to the kingdom of God means I will share my wealth with the poor. Whoever is elected, McCain or Obama, God will accomplish his will and continue to introduce his kingdom into the world. Whoever is elected, McCain or Obama, has little to nothing to do with the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.
P.S. Charitable giving by the candidates according to tax returns (where not all charitable giving is recorded, at least for my family).
McCain personally gave 26% of his income in 2007 and 18% in 2006 plus donating his book royalties since 1998 which totals almost $2,000,000.
Obama and his wife gave less than 1% from 2000-2004 but 5% in 2005 and 5.7% in 2006 (book deals gave the family increased income in the last few years).
Biden and his wife gave .03% in 2007 and .01% from 1998-2007.
Palin and her husband gave 3.3% in 2006 and 1.5% in 2007.