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Poverty is Broken Relationships

We are all poor. As Brian Fikkert of the Chalmers Center for Economic Development at Covenant College explains in this video, the fall of man severed four key relationships—our relationships with God, with self, with others and with creation. This four-relation model is adapted from Bryant L. Meyers’s book “Walking with the Poor,” and it shows that all of us are poor because our relationships are broken as a result of sin. As I’ve considered this model, I’ve found it very compelling, revealing a point of evolution in my own understanding of poverty. Just this past January I wrote:
Poverty exists because of scarcity. Interestingly, employment does not exist due to scarcity. After all, we because we see God giving Adam and Eve “jobs” in the Garden of Eden prior to the Fall. It is fundamental to humanity and our relationship with our Maker that we work. But in the garden there were no unmet needs. No scarcity.
Certainly the point I was making at the time was that poverty did not exist in the Garden of Eden, and that point is still valid. But the method by which I built that argument reveals that I was operating under the fallacy Fikkert points out in the video. I identified poverty merely as a lack of material possessions—not as brokenness in one of these four fundamental relationships. This transformative insight was also made real to me when reading Tim Keller’s “Generous Justice.” When Keller discusses “Justice and Your Neighbor” he quotes Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century evangelist who could surely put the fear of God into Americans today:
Christ hath loved us, pitied us, and greatly laid out himself to relieve us from that want and misery which we brought on ourselves by our own folly and wickedness. We foolishly and perversely threw away those riches with which we were provided, upon which we might have lived and been happy to all eternity.
Compared to the wholeness offered to us by Christ, we are all bankrupt. When we consider the price to buy entrance to heaven, we are all impoverished. This is why we should take pride in nothing; we should think ourselves “above” no one. As Keller points out, “helping ‘all people’ is not optional, it is a command.” We must help, because doing so is key to the healing of our relationship with others. Ultimately, we are the poor helping our neighbors, who are also the poor. Answers to our own poverty can and must come from Christ, and only from that source can we meet the real needs—material and otherwise—of others.