During a pandemic, it always feels dark. Many future unknowns await us. But we can learn from an unknown Jewish prisoner who penned this line in a poem he wrote within his concentration camp cell.
“I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.” (choral arrangement)
This is the essence of faith, isn’t it? We trust that God’s provision and love is on the horizon, even when we cannot see it. Very practically, we pray for our “daily bread” and calm our fears by relying upon our Father in Heaven to provide what we need. As we seek His kingdom, Jesus lets us know that “tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
COVID-19 is a defining moment. We are learning afresh what it means to trust God in the midst of incredible uncertainty. We are learning that our lives and communities and economies are incredibly connected. Loving our neighbor has uniquely required keeping our distance to prevent virus-spread, and our safety as a whole is dependent on all of us maintaining these safety practices. And yet, as we hunker down, we are seeing creative ways that neighbors are helping neighbors. It’s honestly inspiring to see the readiness of so many to help the elderly, immuno-compromised, homeless, and jobless during this crisis. Many of us are seeking ways to continue giving creatively during these unprecedented times.
The US Federal Government’s attempt to aid as many households as possible is to send out stimulus checks to every eligible individual. Bank accounts have already begun seeing deposits, with payments at the rate of $1200 per adult + $500/dependent (reduced if you make over $75K/adult). What does a faithful response to receiving these checks look like? Particularly for those who don’t need them?
I think in order to answer those questions, we have to ask other questions first:
What does the Kingdom of God look like?
There is a pervasive temptation that tells you to do whatever you can to achieve your own goals. It’s been with us since Adam and Eve grasped for the fruit so they could become like God and determine their own lives. And even now it persists and is openly marketed. You know the visions of the American Dream–either that old whitepicket fence, or the modern experience-oriented dream to travel, have fun, and be free. Whether in the garden or the city, we see the same sins and the same lies. In both places, we see the same fears of living within the constraints of trusting God and being bound to your neighbor.
Individualism’s particular lie in our modern economy is that you can ignore those holy constraints, and instead focus only on generating your own wealth. This idolatrous individualism collapses upon itself, because rather than actually establishing basic wellness and wholeness, this centered-on-self mindset breeds insecurity and fear. When we only care for “me and mine,” we lose the only steady rock that will give us freedom and contentment: the Kingdom of God.
In the Kingdom, we have Jesus’ promise to “never leave you nor forsake you” (see Hebrews 13:5-6). We have the “lilies of the field” as reminders of God’s incredible care for this world, let alone for his children. And this spiritual wellness takes on flesh in communities of justice and righteousness, because we can’t experience personal wholeness apart from our neighbor. Our spiritual freedom in Jesus’ kingdom is infinitely more substantial than the independence-based freedom that wealth and distance provide.
Hiding away in the lonely refuge of wealth misses out on the enduring meaning and beauty found together, with the whole congregation, in the fields of Jesus’ promises and the presence of God. In these green pastures, we have the freedom to dive into relationships, community, interdependency, generosity, and sacrifice. We need to see our work and our world–and our stimulus checks–in light of our freedom in Jesus. Christian freedom actually binds us to our neighbor, not out of mere duty, but out of love! If this feels paradoxical, you’re in good company (see Romans 6:15).
Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m following… but where are you going with this? I love Jesus, my family, and I give generously. Are you saying that Jesus demands that I give my upcoming check away?”
Well… maybe. Ultimately, I cannot tell you about what steps and good works God has set before you. But I can try to remind us of what Jesus reveals about the Kingdom, which truly illuminates our path.
The Kingdom of God is like the Shepherd who goes out into the wilderness to find the one lost sheep. It’s when prisoners go free, and the lame walk. It’s the age of Jesus, our crucified King who left his glory and riches behind to be born of a poor, virgin girl, a girl who sang out: “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” It’s the widow who gives her last dollar into the offering.
How do we seek that Kingdom?
We should be encouraged when we see brothers and sisters in the Lord who have access to wealth look at the falling stock market, and their first instinct is to donate their check to help with the needs of others. They instinctively know that Kingdom values don’t evoke toilet-paper hoarding, but free and joyful giving. Rather than trying to jump ship and save themselves, they are more like the captain who’d rather go down with the ship than give into the storm.
We seek the Kingdom only after we start seeing the together-ness of God’s Kingdom. God’s kingdom isn’t only about economics, but it cannot be excluded. God expects us to give when we have abundance; when we have the ability to give, we do! This is what Gospel fruit looks like. This is how heavenly treasures are stored up. This is the Spirit of Christ alive in us. While sacrificial giving can increase our joy when we give beyond our capacity (see 2 Cor 8:2-3), there’s a fundamental call to give our second tunic to the one who has none. Unfortunately, it feels like “tunic counting” is a little more difficult in our age of mortgages, loans, credit cards, 401Ks, savings, check books, etc. So let’s ask our final questions.
What constitutes “abundance”? And what constitutes “need” for a stimulus check?
For me, I don’t have 3 months of emergency savings built up right now. I am not free of my student debt. I don’t have money set aside yet for replacing my car that’ll be going away soon. But, in addition to having a stable job, I have family that I trust would readily lend money to me in case of some emergency (or other needs, like when they helped me put a down payment on a home). Do I need this money? Well, I have some really good uses for it, but, really, no. No, I don’t need this to responsibly tackle my debts, pay my bills, and provide for my daily needs.
I want to propose that those who truly need this money are those who’ve lost substantial work, who don’t have supportive family, who are in compounding debt, who pay half their income on rent, who don’t have permanent shelter, and those who don’t have the options in life when everything hits the fan.
And everything is hitting the fan. COVID-19 is impacting everyone, and it is severely impacting those image-bearers-of-God who are on the margins without options: generationally poor, generationally without higher education, generationally without homeownership.
So, in light of this pandemic and its short and long term economic impacts, I encourage you to stave off the subtle lie that tells us “Shhh….. Be wary….you will never have enough to be safe”.
Instead, let’s throw off that poverty mindset and “look not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4). To help us think very practically about this, here are some places you could distribute your check:
- 50% to your church’s mercy fund to care for people in your church family
- 50% towards a marginalized or vulnerable population through a GoFundMe or non-profit
- As a neighbor to a lot of incredible, hard-working, tax-paying, generous, immigrants who will not be getting any checks, I want to make a special mention of Navigate MN’s GoFundMe to support these communities.
- Search for your closest local homeless shelter (e.g. Catholic Charities or Salvation Army)
- Check out sharemycheck.org for a fun video and to see their perspective on long-term investments for system-wide change.
- See peer-to-peer opportunities at income-relief.com, where givers and receivers are connected.
- Find local small-businesses near you through this GoFundMe list to support, or find opportunities to hire local contractors directly.
The “stimulus checks” are officially titled “economic impact payments,” and this is an important time to direct these funds to those who are most impacted economically. I trust your joy will multiply as you store up treasures in heaven where moth, rust, pandemic, and economic crisis cannot destroy.