Supporting life during Lent

Mar 6, 2017 by

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If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? — 1 John 3:17 (NLT)

I’ve always found it hard to read this kind of text, and found it equally difficult to get through an Associated Press article on current victims of famine in eastern Africa, and especially in Somalia. An excerpt:

Her eyes glued to the feeble movements of her malnourished baby with protruding ribs and sunken eyes, Fadumo Abdi Ibrahim struggled to hold back her tears in the stifling and crowded feeding center in Somalia’s capitol. She waved a scrap of fabric over him to crate a current of air.

Fadumo, along with other families in parched rural Somalia, had hiked all day and all night without food or water to find food and water in their increasingly desperate plight. On their way they found several bodies of children left along the road by mothers too weak to carry their corpses.

Roughly half of Somalia’s 10 million people are experiencing severe food shortages, according to this piece, due to a lack of rain for three seasons in a row. The resources of neighboring countries are likewise being strained as they take in the increased numbers of refugees created by famine and war.

All of us who profess to be pro-life need to demonstrate a willingness to make major lifestyle changes to help our fellow human beings in situations like these. Pretending to be helpless in the face of a crisis this overwhelming will simply not serve as an acceptable excuse. For example:

  1. We can and must give extravagantly.
  2. We can radically reduce our consumption of meat and our overuse of carbon fuels that contribute to climate change.
  3. We can help stop the ongoing destruction of Amazon rainforests that adversely affects the world’s weather.
  4. We must urge our nation to stop adding billions to a “defense budget” capable of killing ever more people while people are dying from lack of food and shelter.

We’re in the season of Lent. What an excellent time to engage in practices that promote life and well-being for all!

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.


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  • Gene Mast

    Can’t make the case for helping the poor without advocating for leftist causes, apparently. I thought this would be one column I could agree with all the way through, but alas, twas not to be. As difficult as it may be, the contribution of chaos in the third world to its poverty is not insignificant, making the case that alleviation of starvation may depend on greater use of western military power, not less. The rule of law leading to economic development is the greatest insurance against famine available. It is no accident that people do not starve in developed countries when there is regional drought. Yes I know, capitalism and military power may be considered two horses of the apocalypse in modern liberal thought, but human flourishing is utterly dependent upon them.

    • Berry Friesen

      Human constructs to which are attributed god-like powers (“human flourishing is utterly dependent upon them”) are called “idols” in the Bible. So yes, we have a problem here.

      • Harvey Yoder

        This reminds me of a quote in “Rewilding the Way”, by Todd Wynward, where he cites something from the Dark Mountain Project, a group of artists and writers who take a dim view of where our “civilization” is going: “Human civilization… is built on little more than belief: belief in the rightness of its values; belief in the strength of its system of law and order; belief in its currency; above all, perhaps, belief in its future. We live in an age in which familiar restraints are being kicked away, and foundations snatched from under us… A similar human story is being played out. It is the story of empire eroding from within us. It is the story of a people who believed, for a long time, that their actions did not have consequences. It is the story of how that people will cope with the crumbling of their own myths. It is our story.”

    • Harvey Yoder

      Thanks for your response, Gene, though of course I think of this as more about what’s right rather than what’s “left”. And what does the “use of military power” really mean, terrorizing people with bombs that dismember, mutilate and burn people alive? Whose human flourishing are we thinking about here?

    • Gene Mast

      From the safety of the US it may be considerably easier to deplore the use of force or even the credible threat thereof than in places where there is essentially no government at all. Should the fine gentleman from Virginia (I think) contend that such things as bombs and napalm were never in the plan of God, there would be no argument from this quarter. Advocacy for what amounts to unilateral disarmament and retreat from a role of providing stability in far flung places, will not enjoy such blissful agreement however. The World is fallen, the state is given the sword. Surely no one thinks that our peaceful existence owes nothing to the ability of the government to pursue, arrest and if need be, in the process, to kill perpetrators of criminal acts. Why would a sect that professes love for all be so enthusiastic about making certain Somalis derive no benefit from the stability provided by the threat of lethal force represented by the US military? Ultimately, the peace in the Shenandoah valley is dependent upon the same principle. The more credible the threat the less one needs to deploy the force. Reducing defense outlays to increase humanitarian aid is superficially attractive but when the threat is no longer credible, chaos increases, disproportionately harming those already precariously perched on the edge of survival.

      Berry, I did not noticed when I attributed god-like powers to either the use of force or a particular economic system. If I did, I not only apologize, but retract the attribution. Should one devise a realistic and workable scenario where order can be maintained in this fallen world without the threat and/or use of force, I would be glad to hear it. Likewise, if one can point out the economic system under which more people have achieved greater wealth and its attendant quality of life than has occurred under regulated capitalism I would like to see it as well. These things are far from divine, only better than the currently available alternatives.

      • Harvey Yoder

        I believe there is an important distinction to be made between the legitimate use of police force to restrain violence and other forms of evil–within national boundaries and governed by law–and the use of unrestrained military force across national lines. Even the so-called “good war” against Axis aggression resulted in unjustified and unimaginable slaughter committed by all sides, resulting in some 50 million casualties in all, and has set the stage for more and more of the same. God sent Jesus to put a stop to the shedding of blood–except for that shed on the part of those who refuse to take part in it.

        • Gene Mast

          From the Anabaptist-non-resistant perspective, I would be very interested in the Biblical basis for that particular distinction. Further, if unrestrained military action is reprehensible, a point I suppose we would agree on, who would you suggest do the restraining when the latter day equivalent of the little German with the mustache decides to enslave his neighbors? Perhaps WWII was unjustified. Perhaps not. German domination of the continent did not look too promising for human decency and even survival of large swaths of the population. I think one could make a reasonable case that defeat of Stalin when Russia was weakened from the war would have done the world a great service, but that is mere speculation But on what basis have you arrived at the conclusion that police protection for your family and property is different in type than protection for the rule of law and basic human rights for Somalians? If one is to apply some sort of Just War criteria to these questions then it needs to be convincingly shown that less death and suffering would have eventuated should the Allies not mustered the will to prevail. One can easily extrapolate from the chaos that erupts in major cities in the absence of police forces that tyranny unopposed on a national scale will have similar in type and much larger in scale, negative results.

          It could also be seen as reasonable to conclude that WWII would never have happened had Britain and France been even slightly more aggressive at the proper time or if the US had not pursued an isolationist policy. In other words weakness invited aggression. Of course you could say that the conditions imposed after the first war paved the way for the second, thereby attributing the cause to the victors of the Great War. Perhaps, but it hardly explains the virulent antisemitism of the Germans and the unique evil practiced by the National socialist party. This evil needed to be opposed, even if the territorial ambitions of the little German did not.

          None of this should be construed as advocating for the followers of Christ to be involved in violence. But let us strive for consistency. If the threat of lethal action by agents of the US or its states individually is legitimate in Virginia, it is difficult to find grounds for condemnation of the same activity when applied to miscreants who threaten innocents internationally.