Many of us have heard about CEO of Gravity Payments Dan Price, implementing a plan to raise all of this employee’s salaries to $70,000 over the next three years. Price is personally bearing the weight of the pay hikes by dropping his salary from $1 million to the minimum $70,000. 1 The hope is that the new pay scale will help improve the emotional well-being of his employees. It’s hard not to admire the move that Price has made. In a world where everyone seems out to get all they can, it’s refreshing to find a leader who is willing to sacrifice for the well-being of his entire team.
The experiment at Gravity Payments has caused many to leap another idea: if somehow, everyone could have the same amount of money, wouldn't poverty be eradicated as well as most crime and injustice? This thought is very attractive. After all, the overwhelming majority of people on our planet despise poverty and would love for its misery to end. But would giving everyone money solve the problem? While it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, it wouldn’t solve the problem.
The problem of poverty has existed as long as humans have existed. The issue is addressed as God gave structure to what life would look like for the nation of Israel in the Jewish Torah (or Christian Old Testament). In chapter 15 of the book of Deuteronomy we read that God also despises poverty. It also indicates that poverty will not ever completely go away (at least not until God sets everything right when Jesus returns to the earth). God’s plan for Israel to deal with poverty was simple and direct. The plan combined generosity, restoration, and responsibility.
“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” 2
The people were to “open wide their hand” to people in need. They were instructed to give generously to those who were hurting. They were to give even though they might not be repaid.3 There was a practice in place that if someone lost everything and could no longer feed themselves, that they could sell themselves to a neighbor or friend. They would then work for that person for 7 years and be fed and housed and receive a modest income. At the end of that time they were released and the “owner” was instructed to give to that person, animals from his own flocks, grain from his own silos, and wine from his own presses.4 Not only was the person fed and clothed when he couldn’t have done those things for himself, he was mentored for 7 years by a person who was thriving financially, and he was given enough to make a fresh start for himself once he left. That’s breathtaking generosity.
That sort of generosity leads to restoration. The person who only 7 years ago had nothing, now has crops, supplies, and animals of their own. More importantly they now had the chance to make it on their own. They could work for themselves. They could plant as much as they like and tend their animals however they thought best. They were not only given means but also dignity and confidence.
That led to a period of responsibility. They now were on their own. It was theirs to make or break. They had to work for 7 years to get this new start and they would now have to work to multiply their crops and herds. Generosity without restoration and responsibility is futile. Money itself isn’t the solution. It’s helping people gain the skills and strengths to provide for themselves and possibly others that reaps long term rewards.
The challenge of this plan is that it can't come through government mandate. The writer of Deuteronomy warned against the bitterness that can arise out of giving grudgingly. Enforced generosity can create as many problems as it solves. The only stable answer is people who are willing to give compassionately and freely. This is where we as Christians must step up. The point for us today is clear. There will always be poverty, so we must always be generous. We must add to our generosity a vision for restoration when possible. We must help, but always allow people to be responsible for themselves as quickly as possible.
Photo: By Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia (The Hand Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
1- See New York Times article here
2- Deuteronomy 15:11 (English Standard Version)
3- Deuteronomy 15:9 (English Standard Version)
4- Deuteronomy 15:14 (English Standard Version)