amy courts: en route

Is Charity an Act of Will, Obedience, or Nature?

From my previous blogs it’s obvious the common problem many Christians have with the idea of socialism is that the sharing of goods is a requirement rather than a voluntary act of the will.

Which got me thinking, why is it so important that sharing from one’s abundance with those who have lesscharity be voluntary rather than obligatory? And, more to the point, does Scripture ask us to give, tell us to give, or simply say we will give if indeed we belong to Christ?

Here’s what I’ve come to so far (and again, I’m thinking out loud):

This concept that “I shouldn’t be forced to share what I’ve worked hard to earn” is one practiced and understood only in communities whose people have come to depend on their acquisitions as a source of worth, status, and identity. In short, it’s the chief source of Self, of Pride. We believe (consciously or not) that whether acquired by hard work, education, or birth right, we deserve what we have. And conversely, those who own less have earned and deserve less.

This social distinction is necessary so that when we “give voluntarily” to those in need, we acquire in return a sense of goodness for having “chosen” to help. We are champions of the poor and oppressed, who pat ourselves on the backs for giving something away. Our hungry pride is further fed, and the truth of the exchange – that we haven’t actually given anything, but simply made a trade – is utterly lost.

But what if caring for the needy is not a choice?

From what I see in Scripture, most notably in Matthew 24:31-46 (but also elsewhere in the New Testament, where both true love and faith are linked irrevocably to giving of oneself), caring for the needy is neither a choice nor a mandate, but simply the Mark of a true Believer. If we belong to Christ, we will care for the least of these. It’s a matter of definition and identity. Just as a singer sings and a plumber plumbs, a Christian, by definition, gives selflessly from an attitude that says, “If I have something you need, then by virtue of needing it, you ought to have it.” It’s not mine to give, but yours to have. It’s a subtle but significant distinction.

We want and have made it a matter of choice because “choosing” to give feeds our pride.

What I find ironic is that when we do strip away the status of ownership – when all needs and property become shared needs and property – we finally grasp real worth. We find that we’re each infinitely and inherently valued by God and necessary to the Kingdom simply because He marked us with His image and a unique personality and spirit at Creation. My worth is no longer tied to what I have or can give away, but to the simple fact that because God made and marked only one Amy Jo Courts-Koopman, I belong and am utterly irreplaceable.

Inevitably though, when stripped of the stuff and left with the nude self, we can’t help but become painfully aware of our equally inherent deficits. We’re shown in great need of what can only be met by humbling ourselves to receive and learn from those who are rich in the qualities we lack.

In the end, the great irony is that we need giving to be a choice because, in our pride, we cannot fathom being worth what we haven’t earned, and we cannot tolerate having nothing to give but ourselves. And we really can’t stand true equality, because it means we all are equally depraved…or needy.

But if we can give what we have “out of the goodness of our hearts,” at least we have our own goodness to fall back on, which sets us just a step above the others.

I don’t know how this all fits in the context of voluntary love or how it coincides with the fact that authentic love cannot be forced. But I have a feeling that it all comes back to the basic Truth that “we love because Christ first loved us.” I have a feeling the we’re capable of giving love only in response to (or in overflow from) what love we’ve already received.

Which again, isn’t so much a voluntary act of the will, but a natural succession or response…Once I’m filled to the brim with love, my cup runs over into others.

It’s worth pondering…