October 27th, 2008
After posting the Obama radio interview where he endorses wealth redistribution on my facebook page, I received several good responses. One of which was from my wonderful Aunt whom I love dearly, but respectfully disagree with on this issue. Her comment cited the passage above. I thought it would be beneficial if I posted my response here and let others contribute as well.
This Bible passage tells of a rich young man asking Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. After Jesus told him to keep the commandments, the young man asked Jesus what else he lacked. Here is Jesus’ response (ESV):
21 Jesus said to [the young man], “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
I have several responses to this passage, but first I want to reemphasize that I do believe in the authority and reliability of scripture. This event really happened and Jesus really did make those comments. So I am assuming throughout my post (and this entire blog) that Scriptural passages have real-world implications. With that out of the way…
1) There is a difference between Jesus’ commandments to individuals and government coercion. In this story, Jesus did not command his disciples to rob the rich man to give his possessions to the poor. On the contrary, he implies personal responsibility in verse 23 when he states:
“Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.”
It does not follow that because an action is moral, government should force it to occur. For example, there are many verses that command Christians to tithe. I would shudder at the thought of taxes paying for church budgets however! Instead, I believe 2 Corinthians 9:7 gives good guidance on giving (ESV, emphasis added):
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
2) If we were to interpret this passage as applying to government, tax rates would be 100%! Jesus tells the young man to sell all that he possesses and give it all to the poor. If this passage were to apply to government, we would have to give Uncle Sam all that we own and let them decide who gets what. There’s a name for such a government system: communism. Obviously, we have seen those results…
3) Even if it is acceptable for government to redistribute wealth, government’s success in alleviating poverty is debatable. The Acton Institute published an excellent video that gives a Christian perspective on how government programs have not helped the poor, but have instead hurt communities. Other studies have had similar results.
It goes without saying, there are many Christian thinkers that would disagree with my assessment. Jim Wallis the founder and editor of Sojourners Magazine, as well as David Beckmann the president of Bread for the World, both have very different opinions. There are also plenty of other verses that have been used to justify wealth redistribution. I would love to hear my readers opinions on this extremely important and hotly debated topic.