“The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it” (Proverbs 29:7).
True Christians want to know why people suffer under poverty. They also want to know how to bring relief biblically. Considering the “cause of the poor” does not mean one replaces the gospel with social justice (what is often termed the “social gospel”); it rather recognizes that gospel grace demands a biblical answer to social problems like poverty, especially when believers have a majority voice in any society.
John Gill, the 18th century English theologian, said that righteous men “will take notice of and regard a poor man’s cause, and take a good deal of pains and care that he is not injured.” By contrast, he said, a wicked man “does not care to consider it, and look into it, and get knowledge of it, and do him justice; he will not take his cause in hand, or plead it.”
When I moved from the United States to Kenya, East Africa, more than ten years ago, I was unaware of this Scripture verse. But I was immediately struck with the great contrast between the wealth of my home country and the poverty all around me in Kenya.
Having previously flown numerous times over the western United States and looked down upon endless farms that dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see, I now wondered why much of sub-Saharan Africa had so few farms (mostly subsistence farms) surrounded by miles of untouched arable savannah. I continually asked the question, “Why are things so different?”
I was also struck by the difference in housing. For the most part, America has beautiful, level, neat, nicely- painted houses—many mansions even. But if one drives a few miles outside most African cities, he will see thatch-roofed mud huts everywhere. Where houses do exist, they are often sloppily constructed and poorly maintained. Why the difference? That was the question I asked myself over and over again.
Part of the answer started to come to me upon remembering a question that Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev asked US President Ronald Reagan as they looked down upon all the fancy houses while flying from Andrews Airforce Base in Maryland to the White House in Washington, DC. “Are these houses the homes of your leaders?” Gorbachev asked. Reagan replied, “No, these are the homes of our citizens.” Gorbachev was flabbergasted! “Your citizens live like this?”
Gorbachev’s assumption was very telling. He assumed the houses were owned by government officials.