By: Christine Jeske
Originally posted here
Christine Jeske has spent seven years working in microfinance, refugee resettlement, development, and holistic missions with her husband Adam. Their journeys have taken them from Wisconsin to Nicaragua, China, and South Africa, culminating in a new book This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling. Christine’s work has appeared in a number of publications in both the United States and South Africa. She currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where she writes, speaks, teaches for Eastern University, parents two children, works toward a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, and blogs at Into the Mud.
Jimmy Carter said that the greatest challenge of the twenty-first century is the widening gap between richest and poorest people on earth.* I’ve been carrying that thought around with me ever since I read it. I believe he’s right.
In 1820 the difference between average incomes in the wealthiest nations of the world was four times what it was in the poorest nations. Today that difference is 75 to one.**
Narrowing this gap—or attempting to—is nothing new. We’ve been working on it for decades. We send money, we start projects, we train scientists and economists and gather global leaders to scratch their heads together. We set millennium development goals so the world together knows what we’re working on. These include good goals like stopping the spread of preventable diseases, promoting the rights of women, educating children, protecting the environment, making a world where nobody has survive on less than a buck a day or die of hunger.
These are great. We’ve done poorly in some of these goals in some places, not bad in others.
And yet the gap still grows. It grows exponentially.
So why does the gap keep growing?
There are two ways to narrow a gap. Say there are two bars, one higher than the other. You can either narrow the gap by lifting up the lower bar. Or you can narrow it by lowering the higher bar.
Every human bone in our bodies steers clear of the second method. But the rub is this: God is at least as concerned with the first method as he is with the second.
God loves when we feed orphans and widows and visit the prisoners and heal the sick and look after the poor. Much of the time, we love doing this too—it feels good.
But God also said all over the Bible that he wanted the high brought low. The arrogant, the haughty, the proud, the self-reliant, the wealthy, the deceptive, the manipulative, the people with the dishonest scales and the unfair pay to their workers… these get a big hard glare from God, the kind that tells a kid “you better shape up or you know what’s coming to you.”
I looked up the words “brought low” in the Bible and it’s frightening what you’ll find. You can read the whole list here, but this one gives the gist:
“For a little while they are exalted, and then they are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like heads of grain.” (Job 24: 24)
Or in the New Testament, Mary says these frightening words when Jesus is conceived–frightening for those of us in this nation that ranks up high for power and wealth:
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53)
I’m not trying to predict some political catastrophic upheaval, and I’m not suggesting we institute communism. The point is this: if we really want to make a dent in global inequality, it will cost us something. Our nation currently gives less than one percent of its GDP in aid to least developed countries. Would we raise that, even in an economic downturn? Will we give up trade deals that give us (often unfair) advantages in trade, even if it costs jobs in our country while we’re already feeling a squeeze economically? Will we support and improve our education system so our graduates are prepared to offer something globally on an equal playing field based on merit rather than privilege? Will we work fewer hours to volunteer on a regular basis? Will we guzzle less of the world’s gas and land-filling disposable junk? Will we pay more for higher quality stuff to give workers what they deserve to be paid?
One of the scariest questions we face today is whether in our lifetimes we will see our nation downsizing by choice with any sort of humility and grace for the sake of the good of the world, or whether we’ll be downsized by force.
I have to wonder with fear whether we get that look from God: shape up, or you know very well what’s coming to you.
*As pointed out in Richard Stearns’ book, The Hole in Our Gospel.
**Also from The Hole in Our Gospel, quoting Jeffrey Sachs and Jimmy Carter.
Are you ready to rally your local group to audaciously challenge a global injustice?
Sign up HERE!