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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Quick Quote 2 – the joy and tragedy of marriage

All human marriages begin with joy but end in tragedy. Whether it is divorce or death, the human bond of love is eventually torn apart. The marriage of Christ and his church, however, begins with tragedy and ends with a joyful and loving union which will never be rent asunder.

Carl Trueman, Reflections on “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?”

The Riddle of Strider

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

If you recognise those words, you probably know they refer to Aragorn, or Strider, a key character in The Lord of the Rings.

At the start of this verse, Tolkein cunningly subverts our expectations by altering a well known phrase. We’re all familiar with the saying ‘not all that glitters is gold’, and for years I thought the first line of the above poem was simply a rephrasing of this well worn proverb. But when I looked more closely, I realised that Tolkein has altered the meaning. Rather than saying that not all gold looks valuable, he says that everything that is golden looks as if it isn’t valuable. His phrase is all-encompassing. All that is gold does not glitter. Everything worth having looks worthless, and anything that looks valuable is a fake.

Aragorn is not recognised for who he really is, so he goes by the name of Strider, or Longshanks. Neither seems intended as a compliment, and the locals in Bree where we first meet him don’t trust him at all. He wanders perpetually, never settling, seemingly having nowhere to call his home. But Tolkein warns us not to be deceived by appearances. This traveller has purpose. Not all those who wander are lost.

As the story develops, we see that Aragorn’s age and experience have made him stronger, and his awareness of the past have given him an ability to resist the comings and goings of others. While others around him wither, or are destroyed by frost, Aragorn knows he is the heir of an old, old kingdom. He puts down deep roots into his heritage, the kingdom of his forefathers, and he is able to be sturdy, dependable, and above all, strong.

Having said that, when Frodo first sees a hooded man in a corner of a room, there is nothing to suggest the presence of a king, much less the presence of a long-awaited heir. Here is a man seemingly at a loose end, wandering the earth with nothing to live for, his life nothing more than ash. But from those ashes a fire shall be woken, and a light from the shadows shall spring. The man sitting hidden in a corner, hiding away from the adulation that most kings crave, will one day be the source of fiery light to many.

There is a blade which will bring this about. It is a broken blade, a useless and defeated blade, but a blade which is imbued with resurrection hope. When it is renewed, the crownless wanderer shall settle in the home he had all along, as the rightful king and the one who brings peace.

As Aragorn says, “I am Aragorn, and those verses go with that name.” But it could equally well describe another. There is another king who laid aside his crown and wandered the earth with nowhere to lay his head, but he was not lost. He was old, from before time itself, and he knew the eternal purpose for which he had come. His flame was cruelly extinguished, leaving nothing but ash, yet from that ash awoke a new flame, greater and more terrible than before. The Sun of righteousness rose from the shadow of death, and there was healing in his wings, because, as Aragorn showed, the hands of the king are the hands of a healer. The broken blade of his body was renewed, and once again the crownless is king. Now those who recognise him must follow in his footsteps, wandering the earth, yet they are no more lost than Aragorn. We, like little Aragorns, are moving towards a home where they will be given crowns and will reign. But we merely imitate the One great and true Aragorn, the man Jesus Christ. In his kingdom, the last shall be first, and although the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, in the kingdom of Christ it is certain that all that is gold does not glitter.

Quick Quote 1 – Rob McKenna was a Rain God

I’m planning to share with you some of the things I’m reading as I read them. I will only comment briefly, if at all, but hopefully you’ll be able to share with me the things that make me laugh, think, or otherwise react.

Today’s offering is a short paragraph about a lorry driver. It comes from the inimitable Hitchhiker’s Guide series and gave me a good laugh.

As he drove on, the rainclouds dragged down the sky after him, for, though he did not know it, Rob McKenna was a Rain God. All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him, and to water him.

Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All The Fish

I wonder if the disconnect between what God wants and what worshippers offer exists in reality as well as in fiction. What do you think?

Blog reboot

As I write, it’s a rainy February afternoon in 2014, but the striking thing about this blog is that the last post is dated July 2011. I’ve been busy with all sorts since then, and I still am, but I have decided to give blogging another go. This time round I don’t intend to take quite the same approach. In the past I’ve often tried to write something that reflects a well thought through, settled opinion. Now I intend to use my blog more to process partial thoughts, and invite the input of others. There will probably be more quotes, and reflections on what I’m reading and watching, and most posts will probably be quite short. Think of them as starters, then come and join the conversation!

He loveth still

Sadly I don’t anticipate that this post will mark the beginning of a golden era of blog posts here, but I wanted to share this before I forget. Quoted below are two verses of a hymn I came across about a week ago. Take a minute or two now to reflect on the words, and what they say about God and us.

In Him is only good,
in me is only ill;
my ill but draws His goodess forth,
and me He loveth still.

‘Tis He who saveth me,
and freely pardon gives;
I love because He loveth me,
I live because He lives.

From “I bless the Christ of God” by Horatius Bonar

Great expectations?

What expectations do you have in life? How do they affect you?

I learnt to juggle when I was around 12 years old, and it didn’t take long. Partly that’s because young people pick up new skills quickly, and partly it’s because juggling isn’t really very difficult. Over Easter I spent a bit of time trying to learn to ride a unicycle, and it was much harder. I suffered from a combination of being almost a decade older, and unicycling being a much more challenging skill to learn.

To give you an idea of the progress I made from a week of regular practice, I have progressed from sitting on the unicycle holding onto two stationary objects to being able to cycle while holding onto a wall for a few feet before falling off. It’s slow progress, but I’m happy with it. Why? Because I read on the internet that unicycling is a difficult skill to learn, and takes a lot of practice. Also, a friend who is able to unicycle told that there was no shortcut which could remove the need to practice. I started to learn with the expectation of a difficult challenge, so when I made a small amount of progress I was pleased about it.

Imagine if my expectations had been different. Imagine I’d expected to be a skilled rider at the end of the week, perhaps learning to perform basic tricks. Imagine if I’d gone to a skate park, and tried unicycling up a ramp. It wouldn’t have ended well for me, that’ s for sure! Having the right expectations was important for how I felt about my progress, and is important for how we feel about life more generally.

What expectations should Christians have of what their lives will be like? Do we expect life as a Christian to be no different from anyone else’s life? Do we expect to radically and rapidly transform into a state of joyous perfection? Do we expect some compromise between the two, or perhaps a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs?

I continually forget what the Christian life is like. I’ve been a Christian for years, but still my expectations get warped out of all reality. I typically find myself making one of two mistakes – either expecting an easy life or expecting life to be so hard I can never progress.

The Christian life isn’t an easy one. Even without any external suffering (and there is no guarantee of freedom from that) there is a constant battle with sin. No Christian is free from it, and only an unhealthy Christian doesn’t keenly feel it. When I forget to expect this, I am discouraged by my frequent failures to live up to my own moral standards, let alone God’s! But when I remember to expect it, I can turn to God for help fighting my sin. I can remind myself that it is God who works in and through me, and it is God who makes me progressively more holy. And I can have joy in the fight.

The opposite mistake could actually be viewed as the flip side of the same wrong expectation. It is remembering that there is a fight to be had, but forgetting to actually fight it! When I forget that progress is to be expected, and expect stagnation, I am essentially surrendering the fight. I despair at my sinfulness, and my helplessness to change it. But when I remember to expect change, I can turn to God for the necessary power to change. While I still acknowledge my weakness and inability to change, I can remind myself of the God who is changing me. And I can have joy in the change.

Getting the right expectations matter. They protect me from expecting too much, and the discouragement which comes when I don’t live up to my own expectations. They protect me from expecting too little, and missing out on progress God is delighted to give me. I need the right expectations. I need gospel expectations.

What expectations do you think are important in your life?

(For the articles which inspired this one, see The secret cause of discouragement and How to turn ordinary experiences into extraordinary ones, both by Joshua Hood.)