Scott Adams, creator of the daily comic strip Dilbert, has labeled himself as an ultra liberal. When asked once to describe what he means by that, he used the example of education, particularly that he felt all black students should be able to go to college for free, and that subsidy would come from highly taxing society’s top earners. He went on to reason that the top of the top earners already have more money than they know what to do with, so this tax would be more of an investment than anything. After all, the more educated people we have (black or any other skin color), the higher probability we have that one of those people will come up with the next iPhone or cure for a certain disease.
Let’s set aside for now the fact that most people aren’t billionaires and the “slippery slope” associated with taxation. If we lived in a system where this played out like Adams hoped it would, he makes a great point: giving isn’t really a sacrifice but an investment. Sure, it can be a rather risky investment, but it’s not one that’s totally impossible.
So, what’s this got to do with us, and why did I label this post under my series of faith-based topics?
If you’re a typical churchgoer like me, you’ve probably been hit up for money at some point in your life. Whether it be the typical 10% or an extra ask to give to some sort of capital campaign, money tops the list of awkward yet inevitable conversations. Inevitable because we operate in an economy where money is essential, and awkward because most (and I mean like 99% most) people barely make enough money to support their own families.
And so pastors resort to this or that tactic to get money out of your pocket. Sometimes it’s positive, like pointing out Bible verses that indicate a blessing to those who give, and sometimes it’s negative, like guilt tripping a congregation into buying a new roof for the church ceiling.
Not that either of those are factually wrong but… I mean… they don’t sit with me well, you know? Like you can’t prove blessing from giving empirically, and guilt tripping is playing off negative emotions. Neither route has satisfied that curious itch in my mind of why I should be glad to give.
Still, my wife and I have been faithful givers to our church because on an intuitive, gut level, it does seem right. And it didn’t dawn on me until today why it is right and how again the Bible remains to be a progressive and enlightening book.
In the book of Leviticus, God instructs his people to leave the edges of their fields unsowed so that widows and other people in need could use that as food for themselves:
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” ~ Leviticus 23:22
As far as I’m aware, this is the first instance of a sort of welfare system in human history. We sort of take for granted today how many philanthropic endeavors exist today when that pretty much didn’t exist in the ancient world, so this instruction in Leviticus was way ahead of its time.
Now, consider the ramifications of this instruction. What did it do for those in need? Don’t worry, this isn’t a trick question. Obviously, it helped to keep these people alive, and if they remained alive, they probably either became normal members of society at some point or gave birth to future generations that would. (And no, not 100% of people would have integrated into society, but it’s still more than 0%.)
The question I can’t help but wonder, then, is how much do we as 21st century citizens benefit from those who benefitted from that Levitical instruction?
Conceivably speaking, it has to be more than zero. Maybe one of those widows’ great-great-great-great grandchildren was Euclid, the father of Euclidean geometry. Or maybe Elon Musk can trace his heritage to one of those orphans who stayed alive from eating the edges of those unsown fields. Obviously, I don’t know, but it is not inconceivable. Not in the slightest. In fact, I would almost stake my life on there being a connection to the Levitical rule and at least one modern contraption we regularly enjoy.
This idea ties in well to what Scott Adams shared at the top of this post. Sure, we’re not billionaires, but the combined efforts of our giving continue to be an investment into the future of our society. How far into the the future? That’s hard to tell. We might be feeding an orphan today whose great-grandson will cure cancer. Following that thought, my giving dollars could be funding the cure to cancer that my great-great-great granddaughter will have. I will never know her, but know how much I love my daughters today, I know I would probably love that little girl just as much.
So the next time you’re asked to dig into your pockets, keep this in mind. The short term sacrifice might suck, but this little sacrifice now could mean a world of difference to somebody else.
One final thought… the Bible is often looked at as this dry, irrelevant book, and Leviticus often leads the charge for that argument. Admittedly, it’s a slog to read through. But we just pulled out one rule from that book to illustrate how progressive it was for the time and how it remains to be progressive even by today’s standards. I personally think that’s really, really cool, and it’s one reason of many I continue along the Jesus tradition.
Let’s wrap it up here. Catch you in the next post.