The Thinking 

Commanded to Give

November 16, 2010


MIKE writes:

I enjoy your site, and follow it daily. However, I believe you and Mr. Auster are wrong in stating that “one should not give money to beggars, period.” I do not believe this statement can be reconciled with Christian Scripture, doctrine, or history. The Lord Himself commanded his followers to “give to everyone who begs from you.” (Luke 6:30.) He did not indicate that only “worthy” beggars should receive. Likewise, Scripture states that angels will come in disguise to test us. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews, 13:2.) Christian history is filled with stories of saints who encountered angels in the form of beggars sent to test them. Who is to say that the beggar you next meet will not be standing with God before you on the Day of Judgment?

In many if not most cases, beggars will indeed use the money received on alcohol or drugs. Even if this were true it would not allow a Christian to refuse based upon the Lord’s Commandment. See also Proverbs 31:6-7. (“Give strong drink to one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.”) Also, I am reminded of a story about C.S. Lewis, who was out one night walking with a friend. He gave money to a beggar, and his friend chastised him, saying that the beggar would simply waste the money on beer. Lewis thought for a second, and replied that he would probably have wasted the money on beer himself.

Will giving to beggars hurt the beggar and make things worse? Maybe. It may also relieve suffering. It is not up to us to decide who is worthy of mercy; that task belongs to God alone. In order to follow Christ, one must give to everyone who asks, regardless of the circumstances or worthiness of the recipient.

Laura writes:

What you say fails to take into account the reality of aggressive begging. The beggar is also a human being. We are not required to accept everything he does.

You say, “It is not up to us to decide who is worthy of mercy, that task belongs to God alone.” But this is a simplistic statement. Obviously we have only so much money to give away. By giving to one person we are deciding to not give to someone else. So every act of charity in some way involves a judgment. If one walks through a big city and gives $5 to ten beggars that is $50 less one can give elsewhere, maybe to a home for the elderly and destitute poor. Or perhaps you are suggesting we give token payments to beggars, perhaps a penny each. What is that but a gesture of vanity?

It’s true that no person gets rich off of begging. No one chooses that life because it is good, except perhaps the bands of gypsies that have turned it into a business. And it is true that we should not ignore the beggar. But is he only owed material gifts? Couldn’t we pray for him?

It’s a difficult question. I remember once going into a store and buying a muffin for a beggar. She angrily berated me. That in itself, however, is not a reason for not giving as the point of charity is not to receive gratitude.



— Comments —

Hurricane Betsy writes:

I love Mike’s essay on the above topic. I agree 100%, though I never had to read Scripture to know that stuff, it just makes sense to me. Nowhere did Christ or the writer in Proverbs elaborate on the demeanour of the one begging for a handout: it isn’t about “aggressive” begging; it’s about begging in general. It’s not an issue of choosing between giving $5.00 (too much, because there’s other people who contribute to that same guy with his cap on the sidewalk, not just me) or one penny, as you say. I give a buck or two when I have it and as I am able, God willing.

Common sense should rule: if you are in financial trouble, don’t help beggars, help yourself. Otherwise, put yourself in the beggar’s shoes. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can tell the difference between a professional beggar and one who is just plain needy.

He wants beer or dope? Good. Anyone who has to stand or sit on the street for hours for a few bucks obviously needs it to buffer his tribulations and I am glad to help. As to that cow who gave you an earful because she wanted money and not the muffin, maybe you should have asked her just what she wanted before you bought the muffin but in any case I am sorry you were treated badly for offering someone food. How that must have stung!

I recall being approached, while walking across a bridge, by two of the sickest-looking, dirtiest Abos I ever saw (and that’s saying something). I said that I had no money for them, I had only $5 and I needed it for myself (all true). They then thanked me for not ignoring them, saying, “At least you spoke to us.” I was just floored when one of them said that.

Laura writes:

It is upsetting to a child to deny a beggar. When we are with children, and approached by a beggar, I do think it is important to give something if we can.

I guess I would agree with Hurricane that in other cases common sense should rule and I would agree with Mike that we should err on the side of charity rather than refuse to be troubled by a beggar.

Youngfogey writes: 

The problem with Mike’s position is that it takes an illustration of the general biblical principle of generosity and absolutizes it to the point of folly. By pointing out that scripture says “give to all that ask” and then arguing that we must do that without reflection on the consequences of our actions is silly. Why would we absolutize the “give to all who ask” scripture and not the scripture that says “he who does not work will not eat”?

It’s better to realize that Christian charity must be an expression of Christian love and wisdom. To give money to enable someone to harm himself is not loving and therefore a violation of the whole Christian moral vision. We also have an obligation to steward our resources wisely. It is unwise to give money to people on the street when giving that same money to a charity for the poor will provide a much greater return for all.

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