Living comfortably in a first-world country, I received an email from a first-world Christian lady working for a missionary organisation operating in a third-world country.
The ancient issue
She raised the difficult, painful issue that has troubled caring people, perhaps since the beginning of time.
The conundrum of poverty, violence, injustice and inequality in such countries with limited educational, judicial, policing, postal and health systems, characteristics we in the affluent west take for granted, leads to the deep issue of the ‘accident of birth’ or ‘where in the world were you born’.
She quoted another worker thus:
Isn’t it an interesting fact that you may have been born in a developed country while a young [local] woman may have been born in this undeveloped country, and this one fact determines both your fates?…
Why should I grow up with a broad understanding and even a wide experience (and thus expectation) of the world, while the lady digging her garden down the road believes that this violent society, this rampant poverty, this difficult way of life is all there is in the entire universe?”
My tender-hearted Christian friend had unselfishly stepped backward into the harsh reality of the third world. On an earlier occasion she had said to me that tribalism and democracy just don’t mix.
A clash of cultures
These two societal systems cannot harmoniously coalesce. The structure of the former in which there is privilege and position far removed from the lowly lot of tribal members, is so foreign to the democratic structure where all (at least theoretically) are equal before the law, and by right of citizenship are entitled to the same benefits as the chief.
But we should not overlook that this same tragically unjust scene often occurs in our world too, and we say: what chance has that little child got?
Perhaps s/he was born into a family wherein the drug addict father has been in and out of prison, and the mother is an addict who finances her habit by practising the oldest profession in the world.
There are any number of heart-wrenching scenarios into which precious innocent defenceless children are born, from which they may never escape.
I have often reflected on, and gratefully wondered why I was born into and raised in a warm loving home and in good health, when others are born with birth defects or contract an illness or condition (sometimes terminal) the cause of which is unknown and for which there is currently no cure.
Regarding the circumstances widely prevailing in third world counties, perhaps the (only?) blessing in the case of the local woman working alongside my friend is that the former “believes that this violent society, this rampant poverty, this difficult way of life is all there is in the entire universe”.
Having had extremely limited experience of such a scenario when travelling on a cruise ship to the same third world country, spent a few brief, uncomfortable hours ashore in the near-equatorial stifling heat and walked amongst / observed at close range the daily life of the local inhabitants and then returned to the air-conditioned ship, I sat with a cool refreshing drink and gazed from afar at the mainland reflecting on what I had seen.
A nice neat divine answer?
It is painfully frustrating to realise that God does not give one regarding this issue that Emma raised. And it is much easier for me to say than for a third-world dweller to hear. The answer to this difficult matter is found (only obliquely) in the great book of Job.
As we read the first two chapters our heart goes out to Job. What tormented him even more than his intense emotional, mental and physical pain was his wondering why he suffered so.
“When God finally spoke, he didn’t offer Job an answer. Instead, He drove home the point that it is better to know God than to know answers”. This awkward (for me) yet insightful comment comes from a profile of Job in my NIV Life Application Bible.
To many, another ‘easier to say than to accept’ comment is that in the end: What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Mark chapter 8 verse 36).
In effect meaning: a comfortable godless time in this life followed by endless horror in the next is an appalling trade: a trade that the majority of people make every day.
Jesus warns that: a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. (Luke chapter 12 verse 15).
‘Our dear LORD God: surely some sort of middle-ground answer would have been more palatable and easier to understand’.
God also says: Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one…does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?…Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do”. (James chapter 2 verses 15-18).
At the very least, we who live comfortably need to be forever grateful and thankful to God for bringing us into being amidst such comfort, even if we can do little to help those “without clothes and daily food”. Financially support a child perhaps?
Regarding at least some of these third world countries which were plundered of natural wealth during the brutality of their colonial past, their men mercilessly captured and enslaved bound for the then New World, none of their appalling mistreatment was caused by God but by hard-hearted colonialists, which actions benefited their home populations.
“Here is the conclusion of the matter”
In the end the Teacher says: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes chapter 12 verse 13).
Gavin Lawrie is a retired Barrister and Solicitor from Tweed Heads NSW Australia and author of the book: 'THE EVIDENCE OF EVOLUTION: Uncovering The Faulty Science Of Dawkins' Attack On Creationism'. He is married to Jan with two adult children and they are grandparents.
Gavin Lawrie's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/gavin-lawrie.html