Something has been bugging me since Christmas. Actually, it started before that. I’ve noticed a trend among charities in the last couple of years toward competitive marketing that is based on how much of a contribution goes directly to disaster relief of benevolence. Charity “watchdog” groups have gotten in on the action as well. When Hurricane Katrina hit, news stations started doing exposés on how “far” an average contribution went towards disaster relief. This surprised me personally. I didn’t really think about the fact that someone may be “misusing” my gift on “administrative” purposes. Maybe I’m just not that suspicious. And it happened again with Haiti. People started talking about which gift went the “farthest.” It became clear that giving is very much considered a business. Of course, church work is a little different – we have more leniency in what we feel led to give to others – it’s up to our discretion based on the funds we have. If course, if my church had 50 million to give away, I’m sure someone would see fit to make us more accountable than we are presently. They may even “recommend” projects for us to undertake…
All of this came to a head for me during the Christmas season. I noticed the Salvation Army’s new slogan: “Doing the Most Good.” Once again, competition in the form of efficiency is the message. “We should receive your donations because we won’t waste your money. We will spend it as you intended it. No need to be suspicious of a scam with us.” In essence, the Salvation Army is saying what all retail marketers in America say: when you “buy” with us, you can feel good about giving us your money. Giving is now only as good as how something is given – its appearance, its efficiency, its productivity. And no longer is giving about others. It’s now about me. It’s the American way. Only a complete fool would get caught giving lavishly without accountability. After all, if you give to someone, they owe it to you to account for how that gift was used. This affects everything we understand about giving in America. We write thank you notes validating the gift by telling how useful it is. We destroy our relationship with our partner by making them pay back previous transactions of giving through other “currency”: time away from the kids, a shopping trip, a vacation, kind words in front of a peer, or sex. In reality, none of this is giving. They are little more than loans, cloaked in pleasantries.
Some people view God this way. After all, he “paid” the penalty for our sins…and now we can look forward to a life of “paying up.” What an efficient use of our Christianity! Actually, what we see in the Bible is the opposite. We see lavish giving with abandon and, often times, the grief of God when we reject his entreatments. We see God dirty up to his elbows in our predicaments that we have caused by our arrogance and self-sufficiency. Psalm 107:17-19 isn’t some nifty little inter-religious aphorism – it’s the story of our lives. “Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities…Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.” And our response has usually been to stand to our feet, brush off our clothes, politely tell God, “Thanks, old man,” and walk the other way.
God is a sloppy and careless giver. He gives without much concern over his feelings or (if he was a Wall Street banker) his ROI. To him, any return is better than nothing. He doesn’t require 100% efficiency rating from Forbes magazine before he opens his wallet of grace and mercy. 1% is enough. Maybe even less. He doesn’t do “loans.” Maybe that’s why I got so irritated about the Salvation Army slogan. In the name of Christ, we should be wholly inappropriate with our giving…as if we don’t have a shred of common sense. Common sense tells us to cling tightly. Only a fool would follow the whim of letting go.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.”