Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Challenges Facing the Poor--George's Post

I.           Challenges Facing the Poor

A.   Poor as a “Surrogate” for “Meekness,” “Humility” and “Submissiveness”

While the rich are roundly criticized in the scriptures, the poor fare much better.   Perhaps part of the reason is that the term “poor” is frequently used as a surrogate for the traits of “meekness,” “humility,” “lowly of heart,” and “submissiveness.”   The poor do not always have these traits, but often they do—in part because they are despised, abused, exploited, and persecuted by the rich.   Those who are meek, humble, and submissive are far more open to accepting the gospel’s message and to responding to the promptings of the Spirit.   “Now, as Alma was teaching and speaking unto the people upon the hill  Onidah, there came a great multitude unto him, who were those of whom we are speaking, of whom were poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world.  ….  And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him, and he beheld with great joy; for he beheld  that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that there were in a preparation to hear the word….I behold that ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye.”[1]   The terms “meek” and “poor” are often used in conjunction with one another.   “And the poor and the meek shall have the gospel preached unto them, and they shall be looking forth for the time of my coming for it is nigh at hand.”[2]    Hence we read “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”[3]

B.   The first will be last, and the last first.

Poverty itself is not a blessing, only the manner in which poverty may soften one’s heart.   The scriptures remind us that man, in his natural state, absent the workings of the Spirit, is “an enemy to God” and has been from the fall of Adam.”[4]    This condition will persist until man yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, putting off the natural man, through Christ’s atonement, and becoming as a child---submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord inflicts upon him.    Hence, while poverty does not save men, it may prepare the ground, creating an suitable soil in which the word of God may flourish.   
The scriptures are replete with comparisons between the poor and rich.     While the poor are meek and humble, the rich are vain and arrogant; while the poor have little in this life, the rich enjoy pleasures, ease, and indulgences in this world.   But the poor have the hope of eternal reward, while the rich are at peril, needing to “overcome” their love of wealth to enjoy eternal life.   Thus Jesus uses the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus to remind all that the social order, as it is established here on wealth, will be inverted in heaven.  “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:   And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,  And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell form the rich man’s table: moreover, the dogs come and licked his sores.   And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;   And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.   And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.   But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but he is comforted, and thou art tormented.”[5]   “But many that are first shall be last, and the last first.”[6]    
It is not “being” deprived in this life that counts—it is being “last” in that one is a servant of all.   The disciples disputed among themselves as to who should be the greatest.   Hearing this, Jesus sat down, calling the twelve to him, saying: “If any man desire to first, the same shall be last of all, and the servant of all.”[7]   Curiously, one of Jesus’s names is “the first and the last,”[8] perhaps repeating this refrain—he who would be first must be last.   

C.   Not all the poor will be blessed; Dangers facing the Poor

No one should think that poverty alone prepares one to inherit eternal life.   “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?”[9]  It is not their poverty per se that qualifies them to blessings.   The poor who are rich in faith, and who love the Lord, are those who will be heirs to God’s kingdom.   Two verses in Section 56 of the Doctrine and Covenants are particularly instructive.   The first cautions the poor, reminding them that their hearts must be changed if they are to have a hope of eternal life:   
“Wo unto you poor men, whose hearts are not broken, whose spirits are not contrite, and whose bellies are not satisfied, and whose hands are not stayed from laying hold upon other men’s goods, whose eyes are full of greediness, and who will not labor with your own hands.”
[10]  This verse highlights the vices the poor must avoid: the arrogance of the poor, envy, dishonesty and theft, greed, and laziness.     At their core, these poor do not differ from the rich who are full of wickedness, perhaps only differing in the capacity they have to give full rein to their wickedness, and in the ways in which they may do evil. 
The second of the two verses points instead to the virtues the poor should emulate:  “But blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs.  For behold, the Lord shall come, and his recompense shall be with him, and he shall reward every man, and the poor shall rejoice.”[11]

D.   Miscellaneous Thoughts About the Poor

Many of the scriptures dealing with the poor are really scriptures about the “rich,” and the challenges they face in overcoming pride, envy, greed, and vanity.   The poor are often amazingly generous.[12]When it comes to giving of themselves, the poor have as much capacity to do good as the rich.   In like fashion, the poor can be as selfish and mean-spirited as the rich.   Perhaps because they feel they have little control over their lives, the poor are often discouraged and broken-hearted.    Many poor are caught in a culture of poverty.  They struggle to work hard and take initiative, hence, the Church’s emphasis upon self-reliance in the impoverished areas of the world.[13]

[1] Alma 32: 4, 6, and 8.
[2] D&C 35: 15.   See also 2 Ne. 27: 30  (“And the meek also shall increase, and their job shall be in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”)
[3] Matt. 11: 5.
[4] Mosiah 3: 19.
[5] Luke 16: 20-25.
[6] Mark 10: 31.
[7] Mark 9: 34-35.
[8] See Rev. 1: 11.
[9] James 2: 5.
[10] D&C 56: 17.
[11] D&C 56: 18.
[12] See “Generosity of the Poor; Stinginess of the Wealthy” supra.
[13] See “Self-Reliance, Prospertiy, Wealth, and Control” infra.