Last year’s flood afforded us the opportunity as Jesus’ people to face a number of new challenges – the biggest of which was how to care for our many, hurting neighbors. We turned to a number of resources as we sought to address the pressing needs of our community, including most especially our denomination’s mission arm, ReachGlobal. Perhaps the most helpful book we stumbled upon was Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts. In fact, we were so impressed with their basic approach that we decided to adopt it as our own philosophy of benevolence ministry at Riverside.
Their basic premise is that poverty isn’t ultimately material but relational. As Bryant Myers writes in Walking with the Poor, “Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.” Corbett and Fikkert explain:
“God is inherently a relational being. From all eternity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in perfect relationship with one another. As beings made in the image of this triune God, human beings are wired for relationship as well. Indeed, the Bible teaches that in creation God established four foundational relationships for each human being: relationships with God, with self, with others, and with the rest of creation.” (19)
We know God cares about poverty. According to Scripture, our Lord is especially mindful of the poor and needy (e.g., Lv.19:10; Deut.15:7-11; 24:19-21; 1Sam.2:8; Ps.12:5; 34:6; 35:10; 113:5-8; 140:12; Pr.14:31; 22:22-23; Isa.3:14-15; 11:4; 25:4; Lk.1:51-53; 6:20-21; Jas.2:2-6). And in Jesus, God has acted decisively to end poverty – once and for all – in all its relational aspects: God, others, our world and ourselves. Christ our King has established, finally, shalom.
How? By becoming poor himself.
In his incarnation and death, Jesus took on our earthly and spiritual poverty. This incredible act of self-humbling wasn’t merely for the sake of solidarity with the lowly. It was in order that we, the lowly, might be raised up with him, from the depths of the earth to the heights of the heavens. In his resurrection and present reign, Jesus has exalted us to the highest position. The result is not only justification before God, but peace and reconciliation with one another, with our world, and within ourselves. More than this, we have the hope of a new heavens and a new earth, “the home of righteousness,” (2Pe.3:13). This then is true wealth. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
This Advent season we will be taking time to consider the birth of Christ through this fourfold lens – our relationship with God, with one another, with our world, and with ourselves – meditating on this amazing truth: through a poor family in ancient Palestine, God has made the whole world rich!
 “The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be,” Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Short Breviary on Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994, p.10)