From time to time, I read about some group that wants to “end poverty” or “stamp out poverty.” I don’t give much thought to such pronouncements—because they will never happen; they can’t. But before I explain why, let me share two similar sounding initiatives that are more important and can happen:
Clean Drinking Water: It is estimated that one billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. The result is serious illness, disease, and premature, preventable death. There are many organizations working to address this, from drilling wells to offering water purification systems. The result is clean, safe drinking water for the some the world’s most hurting people. This is something that can be resolved and in which everyone can get involved, be it directly or indirectly (via donations).
Food for the Hungry: Reportedly 800 million to one billion people lack a basic supply of food. Sadly, experts on such things indicate that there is enough food to feed everyone; it’s just in the wrong place or being obstructed by various governments, factions, or politics. Apparently the problem boils down to transportation logistics and corruption. This is a bit harder to address, but again there are many organizations involved in addressing world hunger. While most people are not in a position to directly help out, anyone can make a donation to help feed a hungry person.
So, clean drinking water and food for the hungry are serious problems that can and should be addressed.
Fighting poverty, while a worthy and noble cause, is of secondary importance to these more basic human needs. The reason that we will never be able to end poverty is that it is an intangible goal. Ending poverty is about as realistic as a school striving to make all their students above average. Although they can increase the overall academic level of performance, there will always be those who struggle. In the same way, no matter how much the overall standard of living is improved, there will always be people at the bottom, who don’t have as much as others, and who will be labeled as impoverished.
Surely we need to help them out, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that through concerted effort, we can make poverty go away.
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Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.