Why we 'haves' must help the 'have-nots'
Posted on December 23rd, 2012 at 12:09PM
The full text, written by the Archbishop of York, is reproduced here:
Sunday 23rd December 2012
There will never be another you. There never has been. You are unique, right down to your fingerprints and your DNA. Your life right now is making its matchless mark on the world and in a real sense, this planet wouldn’t be the same place without you. More than that, when Christians say we are made in God’s image, they are not only recognising that we are unique, they are also asserting that we share some of God’s attributes: like God we can think, we can invent and we can re-create. Each of us has a distinctive contribution to make to our family, our community, our environment.
No one else can substitute for us, even when we make a mess of things. For we have been given freedom of choice. Sadly, we don’t always make the best use of that freedom. From the earliest time of our creation, we have looked to blame others for the bad choices we make. In the Garden of Eden, Adam blames Eve for persuading him to eat the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of good and evil; Eve blames the serpent; and, having tried to be free from God when their attempt fails they then both blame God for creating the freedom which they have failed to exercise with responsibility.
We demand freedom, but we often forget that with freedom comes responsibility. George Bernard Shaw put his finger on the challenge when he said, ’Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.’ Inaction is also a choice, as Edward Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’
Each of us has the capacity both for generosity and mean-spiritedness. Christians and non-believers alike should be aware that their choices have implications for other people as well as themselves. For example, choosing to work together to feed the hungry, open night shelters, welcome the lonely are collective choices that are a force for good. But we should remember that ill-judged choices have consequences, too - and can result in suffering, hardship and pain.
We don’t have to look far to see how this plays out in the public life of our nation. Police failings over their investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and more recently over the Hillsborough disaster have brought years of misery to many families; the mis-selling of mortgages and personal-protection insurance, and interest-rate fixing by bankers have caused financial disaster for others, while the devising of systems by accountants to aid tax avoidance has laid the burden unfairly on those less able to bear it. Add to this the BBC’s mismanagement over the Newsnight programme about Jimmy Savile, and dubious practices of phone hacking and intrusion by the Press which have caused hurt and offence, and we can see that collectively we can be a bit of a liability.
And at another level there are the extremes of individual behaviour, like the slaughter of the innocents in Connecticut last week was a terrible reminder of human depravity and propensity for destruction. Humanity, like organised religion, is ambiguous. It can be an instrument of great good or great evil.
There are times when we are tempted to wonder where it’s all heading. While many of us would be dead if it were not for the medical advances of the last 100 years, many others would still be alive if vicious weapons of war had not been invented. There is no evidence that the human race is making unalloyed moral progress.
Small wonder then, why down the ages some have wondered why the Creator did not give up on the human race as an experiment gone wrong and, like a potter reusing misshapen clay, turn the raw material into something better. That’s the underlying question addressed by the story of Noah’s Ark, by the way. It’s a positive story with a rainbow at the end, to be interpreted as God’s sign of perpetual goodwill towards his creation, despite our waywardness.
With all this in mind, consider the astonishing meaning of the Christmas story. It tells us that God values the human race to such an extent that he chose to be robed in our human nature, in order to shine a light on the road we were meant to be travelling. Better still, rather than merely indicating the way, he offers himself as The Way – an unseen but ever present guide who will sacrifice himself to lead us to safety.
For God to appear as the Christmas baby who was utterly dependent on others for his survival was the Almighty’s pledge that he came in peace. To live vulnerably among us as Jesus did, without the intervention of a battalion of warrior-angels for protection, was a demonstration that God works with human co-operation, not compulsion.
For that baby to grow up amidst hostility and then die violently without retaliating is the ultimate guarantee that there is nothing we can do to thwart the Creator’s final purposes. To put it simply: there’s a massive price on our heads and God wants us alive. That goes for every human being. Your enemy has the same value as you. The cocaine-soaked addict is still of immeasurable worth. The father who has gambled away his wages, rendering his family homeless, has not lost his value in the sight of God. And the same is true of out-of-work breadwinners, who feel ashamed and guilty because they cannot afford to provide their family with the glossy Christmas portrayed in TV adverts.
God has no favourites. He has invested himself in each of us. Now he requires you and me to deliver a quid pro quo. If we are of infinite worth, we must treasure every other human being like that. I created a charity which invites ‘the haves’ to help the ‘have-nots’ in the UK; and they in turn help other ‘have-nots’. It’s called Acts 435, inspired by the biblical book Acts, Chapter 4, verse 35, which explains how the first Christians ran a redistribution agency to help the poor people in their community. The charity works. through churches and charities. to help people in need.
A 39 year old man, with a wife and two children, worked for 20 years until he had a heart attack and suffered two mental breakdowns, which left him too ill to work. The family are struggling to cope financially and emotionally. Acts 435 stepped in and now they have enough money to celebrate Christmas with their two boys. A local charity also provided vouchers towards clothing.
This month we sent £100 to a young mum in Barnsley for food and heating after her benefits were cut. She suffers clinical depression and awaits a tribunal to see if her benefits will be reinstated. Acts 435 supplied a homeless couple in Dorset with a small stove so that they can heat food. Money left over bought socks and a coat.
We don’t have to be snared in a perpetual line-dance with one moral step forward and one back. By working with the grain of God’s intentions for humanity, we can progress. Anyone who prays the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Thy will be done’, is acknowledging that we can’t go it alone but need divine help. When we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come’, we are inviting nothing less than a revolution, of which Christmas is just the beginning.
It is with eager anticipation that I wish you joy and hope this Christmastide. May you discover your unique part in God’s strategy for creation.
* You can read more about Acts 435 on www.acts435.org.uk.