They say poverty is relative. When you look around the world, and particularly in war-torn and emerging third world countries, it’s easy to identify the ‘have’s’ and ‘have-not’s’. But have you noticed how happy most of the people appear in these very poor countries, despite the fact that they often have absolutely nothing to their name apart from the clothes they stand up in – and those are usually donated throw-away from a first-world country!
We cannot imagine what that level of poverty is like in our country because, love them or hate them, our Governments have managed to increase our standard of living, albeit we still have different levels of wealth but not abject poverty as in so many parts of the world. I’m not trying to be judgemental here but, from images on television, newspapers, social media, etc., being poor in this country does not compare with the living conditions in the likes of Afghanistan, Syria, Africa, India and all the other countries which regularly show their people in crisis.
I’ve known personal poverty in my own life and not-so-fondly remember my mum and I, during the 1960’s, living on a packet of pea soup and bread between us for tea every night for a week because she couldn’t afford to buy us more food….and she went out to work! There were no welfare benefits then and the poverty safety net hadn’t been invented. These days, poor people can claim so many things which just weren’t available in earlier generations.
While we know life is very difficult for many people in this country, and it’s going to get a whole lot worse in the coming months with increases in energy, housing, fuel, food, National Insurance, etc., we still see some people on television purporting to be on low incomes but still sporting tattoos, top-end mobile phones, facial enhancements, etc. I’m sure it’s the minority but, to be honest, some people find it easier to be reliant on the welfare system than working for a living.
Additionally, many people wonder why poor people continue to have more children that they cannot afford. As we all know, and particularly with social media and peer pressure these days, children can be very expensive, particularly if they’re into a designer lifestyle. I know of one child some years ago whose shoe soles were flapping about and her school jumper was completely ragged but her parents still bought her several pieces of the latest computer games equipment for Christmas that year!
In Jesus’s time, most people were very poor and didn’t have all the trappings that a modern society like ours now has. Graham, what do you think Jesus would make of the poverty situation in this country now?
Rev Graham replies:
As you make clear, Carol, in your question, poverty is relative from one section of community to another and in different countries worldwide. When I visited Albania and Kosovo on a Men for Missions trip, I was shocked by the level of poverty people were experiencing and, when I returned home, realised how rich I was compared to them.
However, we cannot measure poverty and riches just on the basis of material possessions. People may be considered poor yet feel quite rich in their environment and relationships which is shown in their levels of generosity to each other. This compares to many wealthy people who might be less generous and thankful for the simple things in life.
At this point, Carol, I want to address your question by trying to establish what may constitute basic human requirements and use that as a pivot or axis, as used for a seesaw in a children’s playground, that goes up and down and to reflect certain levels of poverty and wealth.
Axis of Daily Requirements
We all require some form of shelter that we might call home. It will provide a place where we can cook food and keep warm and feel protected while we sleep and relax. A television and access to social media is not vital but a major requirement for engaging in the modern world. It is important that we are able to feel some measure of love and to share such love. It is vital to have some form of work or daily activity that provides a measure of income and have an ability to interact with people within a local and wider community.
Levels of Poverty
If a family of two adults and three children have access to one bedroom, a limited bathroom, lounge and kitchen and very little money then that might be considered poor by many standards of living.
Levels of Wealth
A similar family of five live in a property with five bedrooms and each one has an en-suite. There are four reception rooms, a large kitchen, conservatory, garden and a generous drive and garage to accommodate three cars. This standard of living, with excessive money in the bank, may be classed as being wealthy. On the above basis, the axis of Poverty is low and the pivot of Wealth is high.
Equal levels of living
When considering two random families, both would be able to accommodate their own requirements from a reasonable level of income dependent on their skill base and living conditions in respective countries. It is always difficult to make relative comparisons that might equate to an equal or unequal standard of living that both are able to enjoy and appreciate.
Emotional Poverty and Wealth
Alongside any measure of material wealth or poverty, there has to be some form of estimation as to how people feel in terms of emotional wealth and happiness, poverty and sadness. A family that is materially poor may feel very rich because of all the love and care they experience on a daily basis which helps them to live in and with a lack of material things.
This may compare to families who have no shortage of material needs and live in a continual state of abundance yet find themselves impoverished because they do not experience an overflowing abundance of shared human love in or outside the family. There are numerous variations of poverty and wealth that we all experience at different times due to our respective health, wealth and circumstances generally.
Spiritual Poverty and Wealth
In the Western world we live in a society built on consumerism while knowing that we have more than enough of our daily requirements. Holiday-makers may enjoy the delights of an all-inclusive but still find time to complain. They express anger in their abundance which reflects a spirit of self-centeredness and greed. This contrasts to attending a retreat at a local Abbey where all the food and accommodation is very basic but adequate and demands a spirit of thanksgiving to God who is our ultimate provider alongside all the love and support of the community we share it with.
In the Old Testament we have many references to those who are poor and those who are very rich. As we think of Moses, his life was transformed from being abandoned at a very young age to living and enjoying life in an Egyptian palace. In the wonderful story of Ruth, she experienced the loss of family members and found herself homeless and begging for food. In Jewish law and practice she benefitted from a share of the harvest and eventually found new love and happiness.
In Proverbs 22: 1-2 it highlights the plight of the poor and rich. “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” and the “Rich and poor have this in common; the Lord is the Maker of them all.” Proverbs 31: 9 says that the Lord defends the rights of the poor and needy. In Psalm 34: 6 the Lord hears and saves the poor out of all their troubles.
Many of the Old Testament prophets like Amos 5; 11- 12 called for a review of how society may function so as to provide for the poor with compassion. The church has a great tradition of offering support for the poor and all those in particular need and has been instrumental in creating social structures so that fairness, equality and justice flourish. The prophet Haggai encouraged his hearers to think about their spiritual poverty which prevents joy and a natural thirst for life and to change it into spiritual plenty.
In the New Testament Jesus spoke a lot about wealth and made it clear that it was far better to give than receive. Jesus lived a very simple life without a permanent home. During his years of ministry he had no regular income and had to trust for all his daily requirements to be met that definitely did not include a TV and laptop! With his disciples he trusted for his daily bread. The Lord identifies very strongly with the poor and oppressed. Paul in Philippians 4: 12 asks us to be content ‘in plenty or in want.’
The poor and the rich
In the teachings and sentiments of Jesus he makes clear that we will always have the poor and the rich. We do have opportunities to ensure that the plight of the poor is lifted practically and emotionally. When we return to the seesaw of life may we see more of the ups and downs balancing out, so that it reflects a vibrancy and blessing rather than a consistent period of poverty and sadness.
So, Carol, in whatever way possible may we contribute in gifts and time to our local churches, charities, national and international initiatives to relieve the plight of those in poverty and crisis which is a way in which God moves us to be a means of provision to those in need and to accept such provision as from the hand of the Lord as represented in the Signpost Organizations below:
Mustard Tree, Manchester – Tel: 0161 850 2282
Wood Street Mission – Tel: 0161 834 3140 or email@example.com
Young Manchester, Tel: 0161 631 2879
Barnabus, Manchester – Tel: 0161 237 3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Fare Share Greater Manchester (Food) Tel: 0161 223 8200
SPIN (Supporting People In Need) email@example.com
Humans Mcr – Tel: 0161 243 0171 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Just Life Centre, Manchester, Tel: 0161 285 5888 or email@example.com
Lifeshare, Manchester – Tel: 0161 235 0744
Salvation Army, Manchester – Tel: 0161 273 2081
Stretford Foodbank – Tel: 07564 387209 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bread & Butter Thing (Cheap Food Charity) – Text: 07860 063304 or
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