Today is a historic day, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Global Goals for sustainable development just a few hours ago. These goals are sort of a sequel to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which has been surprisingly successful in making the world a better place: extreme poverty has been cut in half, hunger too, more children go to school, less women and babies die in childbirth, and people live longer. Praise God! John Green, educated Youtuber and a Christian, explains briefly the achievements of the MDGs in this video:
The Global Goals step things up a bit though; the new ambition is to totally eliminate extreme poverty by 2030 and also make sure that nobody goes hungry. Other goals (there are 17 of them) include global gender equality with no more discrimination against women anywhere, reduced economic inequality, reasonable consumption, action against climate change and environmental pollution, etc.
Should Christians support the Global Goals? Duh, obviously. Helping the poor and caring for God’s creation is extremely Biblical, isn’t it? Well, some brothers and sisters do object against the goals in general and the first one about ending poverty in particular. The general critique against goals like this is that we should not imagine ourselves being able to turn this world into a paradise, since all men are sinful (Rom 3:23) and the Kingdom of God is not of this world (Jn 18:34). The particular critique against the idea of ending poverty is that Jesus actually said:
The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. (Mark 14:7)
Now, the context of these words is that a woman has been pouring really expensive perfume over Jesus, and the disciples rebuked her for not giving the money to the poor. I have previously discussed this text in my God vs Wealth series since it has also been misinterpreted in a slightly different way, namely that Jesus defends luxury consumption. But let us now look at the interpretation of Jesus prophesying that there will always be poor people and what it means to us.
Firstly, it should be noted that Jesus is actually quoting Scripture here, namely Deut 15:11: “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” in this Bible passage, the Lord goes from saying “there need be no poor among you” (v. 4) to “if anyone is poor among you” (v. 7) and then to “there will always be poor people in the land”. Sin is obviously in conflict with God’s intentions. But because of this His commands remain clear: be openhanded and do not refuse to give if you can, because that’s a sin (v. 9).
The early church did eliminate poverty among them according to Acts 4:34, but obviously it has not lasted to our day because we tend to suck at practicing community of goods (most Christians today don’t even try). But Jesus ambition clearly is that all poverty should be erased. As the World produces poor people, the church should receive them and end their poverty. After all, Jesus says that the poor should be “with you”.
It should also be noted that poverty changes. Global Goal #1 talks about prohibiting than anyone lives on less than 1.25 dollars a day, which is how extreme poverty was defined. Even if the goal is met, there will still be poor people that live on, say, two dollars. In Jesus’ time extreme poverty was much more common than it is today; in fact, most Western countries have almost entirely eliminated extreme poverty, showing that it is possible.
Finally, even if Heaven will be the full expression of God’s Kingdom, our calling as a church is to be Kingdom embassies that represent God’s ethics and righteousness faithfully. Of course we should promote the elimination of all poverty worldwide – even if we fail (and we probably will), this ambition is much better than the current ambition that possesses the hearts of men: to grow richer and richer, buy new stuff, make-up and entertainments, fancy cars and holiday trips. This filthy Mammon lifestyle must be abandoned as we instead devote ourselves to spreading the love of God to the poor.
So support the Global Goals, spread the word and join the Prayer for Everyone campaign! Blessings!