The moral dilemma of a drug-addicted beggar

Have you ever been asked for money by a beggar, but been reluctant to give any for fear that it will fund a drug habit or some other destructive behaviour? I’m sure many of us have felt the tension between wanting to be generous and not wanting to fund an addiction. We are not the first to face this dilemma, and we can undoubtedly learn from those who went before us, whether or not we agree with their conclusions.

Charles Spurgeon, a Victorian preacher, pondered this very question. He decided that he would give money to people in need, even if he knew they would spend it on an addiction instead of spending it on food, and gave two reasons. His first reason was:

If poor people come to me, apparently starving, and I give them bread, and when they receive it, they turn it into drink, I am not to be held accountable for their wrongdoing. My present and pressing duty is to relieve the hungry, and to prevent starvation as far as I can. If men and women are so sinful as to abuse the mercy which God sends to them through me, I am not to be so wrong as to cease from giving to the poor on that account.

In other words, Spurgeon drew a sharp distinction between his responsibility and the responsibility of the poor. He was to be an instrument of God’s mercy, giving generously to others. How those gifts were used was the responsibility of the person to whom they were given.

The second reason Spurgeon gave was:

If God were to keep back from us all his mercies because we might turn them into evils, there would be very little for him to bestow upon us. There is not anything in this world, however good it may be, but may be turned to evil by the sons of men; but God does not withhold his favours because of that sad fact.

Both quotes by Charles Spurgeon, quoted in Sunlight for Cloudy Days, p77

Here we see that Spurgeon sees it as Godly behaviour to give gladly even when that giving may be misused. Notice how he identifies himself as a sinner turning blessings into evil behaviour, just like some beggars turn generosity into destructive addictions. Only from that perspective, as a recipient of God’s goodness, is he able to apply the lesson to himself and fulfil his duty, giving freely and without suspicion.

Do you agree with Spurgeon’s reasoning? What do you do in these situations?

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