At the center of the problems we face as a nation: poverty, addiction, crime, lack of healthcare, poor education, abortion, and breakdown of families is the failure of individuals to take responsibility for themselves and those around them. In the face of difficulty, hardship, and true tragedy, we have subsidized and encouraged what we call safety nets which arrogantly and foolishly defy the most effective and efficient means for dealing with problems at the most personal, local, and accountable levels. Impersonal statist systems, especially in welfare, healthcare, and education are ineffective, inefficient, and worst of all subsidize irresponsibility. Not everyone can do everything of course, but most people can do something to improve their circumstances and serve the needs around them and some people can do a lot more than we imagine. As the old adage says, many hands make light work.
But the reverse of that adage would be something like trying to find one really big hand to take care of all the work makes many problems. But that’s what we’ve done with our growing statist mentality. If something is wrong, we look to the state, we look to politicians, we look to Washington DC. But this is folly. Who is best situated to provide healthcare, education, and care of the poor and most vulnerable of our communities? We are. Local communities provide the best care for local communities. We are in the best possible position to know the needs. We know the resources. And when somebody is skimming off the top, cutting corners, cheating, we are in the best possible position to see that, confront that, and prosecute that (as necessary). Nobody thinks mail-order brides are a good idea (for many good reasons), but for some reason many Americans think we can function on mail-order health care, mail-order education, and mail-order welfare like a bunch of suckers.
The reply comes back: You don’t actually think that local communities have enough resources to take care of themselves do you? Um, actually I do. Of course in this fallen world, all of our human efforts to address the effects of the Fall will be approximate. There is no such thing as utopia, and sending a bunch of people across the country to write laws cannot change that. Most local problems are best addressed with local solutions. It’s harder that way, and it requires people taking responsibility. But sending money and resources to offices far away from the problem is almost always a good way to give yourself a feeling of charity while not actually doing much of anything to help. And what has government intrusion got us in education, health care, and welfare over the last hundred years? What’s our report card? We have F’s all the way down the line, and yet the scammers keep coming back saying that all they need is a little more time, a new program, and of course, a little more money. Everything we have touched has turned to sewage. Instead of the Midas touch we have the Roto-rooter touch.
God did not give the primary responsibility of health, welfare, and education to the government. He clearly gave it to families, and in the absence of family, He gave it to the church and local community. In the context of instructing Timothy about when it is acceptable for the local church to support widows, Paul writes: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Note that: Paul doesn’t merely say that it is a good idea for people to take care of their own neighbors and families. He says that failure to do so is tantamount to apostasy. But in our arrogance and folly, we have thought that we know better than God, and we have established vast systems of disobedience, vast systems of apostasy. In other words, government run systems of welfare, healthcare, and education are systems of unbelief, and they are training Americans not to believe. To take responsibility for the needs of those nearest to you, especially the needs of your own household requires faith, and to fail to do so is faithless.
And so we finally come to the heart of the matter. People will not (actually cannot fully) begin to take responsibility for themselves and their families and communities until they have taken responsibility for their complicity in the mess of this world. Our lust, our lies, our theft, our anger, our bitterness has contributed to the poverty and pain of this world. And our sin deserves punishment. We have crushed the weak. We have ground the faces of the poor. We have judged ourselves with charity and looked on our brothers with scorn. We have cut corners, turned a blind eye, failed to keep our word. It is only the fact that our sin justly deserves death and God’s wrath that strikes at the center of our pride and self-centeredness and irresponsibility. So long as we evade responsibility for our sin, even the best human intentions will always leave room for humanistic evasion of responsibility. We will leave room for that devilish instinct. And so we have.
It is only Jesus Christ crucified in the place of sinners, taking responsibility for sin He did not commit, that changes hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Do we want justice? Do we want true righteous living, truth in love lifting up the downtrodden, administering healing to broken hearts, broken bodies, broken minds, broken families? Then we must have the righteousness of God. The source of that righteousness is found only Christ crucified for sinners. We must take responsibility for our rebellion, our evasive lies, our hard-hearted indifference to the needs of others, our self-seeking idolatries. And in so doing we must look to the only lawful means of escape from the wrath of God. We must look to the One whom God made to be sin for us.
This message is the only thing in all the world that makes soft hearts. It is only soft hearts that live lives of true mercy, glad generosity, thankful responsibility. Soft hearts work harder than hard hearts. Soft hearts are loyal to marriage. Soft hearts love fruitfulness and children and pass on to them the dignity of these truths in Christ. Soft hearts administer true charity. And it is only soft hearts that will insist that the difficulties, trials, tragedies, and duties that God has assigned to particular families and communities be dealt with by those closest to the scene. Soft hearts know deep down that to send away to the state capital or national capital is an exercise in evasion, an exercise in folly. Soft hearts see the challenges and difficulties in their neighborhoods and families and gladly get to work.
New e-book Death by Baptism available here.