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A Missing Link in Poverty Alleviation: Humility

Consider the last time you found yourself moved to compassion or feeling for a particular cause— what prompted you? For many, these thoughts are something emotionally moving or worthy of attention for a little while, yet that vigor seems to die down after the shock and pathos fizzle out. When problems are seen as abstract and distant, it is rather easy to ignore them. This raises a question: How do we move beyond momentary whims or feelings of altruism to long-standing support and partnership? Why is it that well-intentioned groups immersed in activism often miss the mark in severing cyclical dysfunction? Why do social programs occasionally provide temporary relief of symptoms, but never real progress? I propose that a part of the issue lies in an inflated view of self and, moreover, a lack of humility.

Without the lens of the redemptive nature of Christ, it is easy to look at the hurt of the world with dismay, hopelessness, and even resentment. Beyond that, when we approach the world with an inflated view of ourselves, these situations can appear even more dismal—especially when we consider our perspective to hold the sole key to solutions and answers. And while the brokenness of the world we live in should stir up emotion in us as we yearn for the heavenly Kingdom, we tend to lack humility if we view the pain of this world as easily fixable by us through own might or activism. On the contrary, humility acknowledges the very opposite and understands that we can’t ultimately save ourselves.

There is encouragement in knowing that we have a perfect and beautiful example of humility in the life of Jesus. When speaking of the content of His heart, Jesus said “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). As image-bearers, we live this life in pursuit of holiness and Christ-likeness—and, by the grace of God, He enables us to become more like His Son. Thus, to be more like Jesus Christ is to assume a posture of the heart rooted in gentleness and lowliness, humility and selflessness.

This very demeanor should guide the way we support particular causes, especially when caring for the poor. There is a significant distinction to be made between “saviorship” and partnership. As Christians, we ought to pursue the latter. Whereas “saviorship” implies a level of inferiority among parties, partnership seeks to understand and equip. Approaching support from a lens of “saviorship” involves an implied “stooping down” to the least among us. On the contrary, partnership acknowledges that every person has inherent, God-given value. Moreover, partnership understands that every individual has something to bring to the table. Whether it be financial resources, time, conversation, or talents, no one is without purpose, dignity, and the ability to contribute.

There is an element of mutuality in partnership absent in other forms of assistance. Additionally, people are dependent on relationships for growth. Humans were made for relationships—primarily with our Father and then others. Therefore, it is only fitting that mutuality, often achieved through integration into one’s community, is the backbone for human affections and substantive gains in issues of poverty.

Service, clothed in humility, seeks to recognize existing resources and aptitudes without violating the human dignity of people made in the Imago Dei. By equipping individuals with an understanding of their capacity for agency, they are then enabled to understand the importance of personal responsibility and, simultaneously, dependence on community. Therein lies the ability for exponential growth, for when investments are made in someone’s capacity and capital, impacts are illuminated.

Ultimately, an emphasis on personal relationships and community should guide the conversation on the most pressing plights of poverty today. Personal interactions can give birth to life-changing and contagious repercussions that no impersonal service will. This sort of approach to addressing the most pervasive type of poverty in the United States today is more effectively suited than broad-scoped services or programs. By emphasizing community over impersonal services or an ideal individualism, people are empowered to contribute and advance, taking care to consider others in the process.

Ultimately, humility provides an understanding that investing in individual relationships is essential in alleviating relative poverty. It means living under the consideration that we are merely vessels, used by God as He wills, for His glory and name. We do not possess the answers or end-all-be-all solution, yet, we do possess the God-given capacity to invest in relationships that sow good. And thus, with this proposed framework, the aim to care for those who are poor invokes something from all of us.