The religious left insists in biblical interpretations placing collective responsibility for the poor as enacted by systems as the key to interpret God’s teaching on compassion. They want structural change that brings about just distribution of resources and downplay personal charity. What we need is structures of love and moral budgets over structures of sin and concentration of power in private hands. They miss the message of the Scriptures.

Sin is personal or it is nothing. That the poor will always be with us (Deuteronomy 15:11) speaks of the reality of personal sin. Although there should not be poor among us, there will always be because we sin against God (Deuteronomy 15: 4-5). The most direct way to do justice is to do it personally, not via a transfer to systems. As I cannot ordinarily control a system nor control who takes decisions within it, my emphases must be on my commitment to justice.

The idea that there will always be poor among us can tempt us in two directions. The first is to laxity in acting justly. I can resign myself to accept it as a given and focus my energies elsewhere. The second derives from the first. I can focus on just systems that de-personalize the issue of poverty and grant me the opportunity to support a given structural solution. As long as I support this or that policy, I am attempting to do justice.

No. There is a binding personal responsibility towards the poor that each of us has, this individual responsibility is the heart of the biblical message.

There is a biblical teaching on one’s right claim to one’s labor, not to another man’s toils. “Lazy hands make a man poor” not systems (Proverbs 10:4). The Bible recommends the freedom to work, transact, and profit from one’s labor. Nowhere does it recommend the redistribution of wealth as it first recommends the earning of it. Debt cancellation and the return of property as inheritance had nothing to do with redistribution but with the offering of a new opportunity to create wealth by working hard on the field for a new harvest.

God castigates the spiritual poverty and laziness of those unwilling to work, regardless of their class of economic status. “If anyone will not work, let him not eat.” (2 Thes. 3:10) He also rejects the arrogance and spiritual poverty of those who only concern themselves with egotistic material pursuits. (Luke 12) So, poverty from God’s perspective is irrespective of material possessions and can be found in the heart of anyone not open to God’s grace. This poverty is spiritual, emotional, intellectual, cultural, and even political.

Political poverty can be seen in the rabid activism of those whose concern for the poor centers on public policy changes and redistributive agendas. By concentrating on systemic poverty, they turn around from the human person as the locus of responsibility for self and others and place the blame on systems. ‘Christianizing” the market is a utopian idea that forfeits the reality of its impossibility. Trusting in command systems based on a given biblical interpretation of justice is a fraud. It simply sends us into the pursuit of preferred political agendas often sprinkled with appeals to isolated biblical passages interpreted from a given ideological frame. The Gospel becomes an instrument of power to be deposited in structures.

Command systems, even if called to be ‘imbued with the Gospel’, become tyrannical as they impose a set of beliefs over all. They prevent individuals from seeing themselves as the primary channels of compassionate activity. They create systems too reliant on the imposed understanding of a few and the supposedly good intentions of bureaucrats.

Freedom is eschewed in favor of collectivized compassion. The system is seen as unable to work as system. What causes poverty? Systems of sin they say. Human intentional evil creates systems that perpetuate that evil, even absent individual intention. These systems survive and thrive on injustice. We must create systems of love if we have the will and the power to do so. Trusting too much on our capacity to create systems based on intentions, they embark on re-structuring society. Foolish humans those who posit such power in the intentions of men! It is like placing the reality of marriage on the feelings of closeness newlyweds experience. As I cannot commit to feelings, such exercise is a charade. But what does that system based on intentions looks like in real terms? In practical terms? The only specific answer they can offer come from Marx, not Christ.

What causes poverty is indeed the question. We offer that it has nothing to do with command systems, with systems intentionally created to create just effects. It has nothing to do with Christian values imbued throughout the system, as much as I am for Christian values. Poverty was the lot of humanity for thousands of years until men discovered the answer to the creation of wealth: natural systems of liberty. Natural systems of liberty are functional as systems, even when the intentions of the actors are not lofty. These systems are based on reason and practical intelligence moved by self-interest, not on the lofty intentions of people or on command systems attempting to be created to secure “just” effects.

Many government interventions in the name of justice are enacted with lofty goals and clear moral understandings but lack the practical intelligence that only freedom can offer. Of necessity, these intentional systems must concentrate reason and power on a few who think they know better and what is “biblically just.” This understanding is then hammered into reality. The system begins in the mind, concentrates authority, and descends into reality to hammer itself into it. Natural systems of liberty begin with flesh and blood experience, diffuse authority among the many, and create spontaneous opportunities for cooperation.

The unintended consequences of command systems are not seen immediately, so they are assumed not to exist. These latter consequences are seen as new and unrelated occurrences coming from systems that “refuse to move” and in need of further change. Little by little, freedom is lost, all in the name of justice. Let us reject this false religionist game.