God-given wisdom is of paramount importance when it comes to charity. The classic example of this is giving an alcoholic bum money to go buy more beer and further his addiction. This is a situation where trying to help someone could potentially make their life far worse.
It is incumbent on the do-gooder to at least attempt to foresee the potential unintended consequences of their deeds.
Were you aware the environmental movement that championed the ban on the chemical DDT likely contributed to millions of deaths in Africa?
The Humane Society of the United States offer 4 reasons NOT to feed wildlife on their website, no matter how hungry they may appear.
A common cause of rollover car accidents is a mistake known as “Overcorrection.” A driver may lose focus, and when their car drifts to the shoulder, they panic and jerk the steering wheel too quickly back to the road.
Jason L. Riley argues in his book, Please Stop Helping Us, that well-intentioned policies meant to help African-Americans succeed actually accomplish the opposite. Things like soft-on-crime laws, designed to reduce black incarceration, lead to more dangerous neighborhoods. Welfare programs designed to be a ladder to success prove to be a poverty trap.
Got it. Helping = bad.
No, of course not. In a few of these examples, we just simply overdid it. We could have used drastically less DDT, protecting the environment while still keeping the mosquito population under control. In the overcorrection example, we definitely DID need to steer back onto the road, just not so sharply as to overturn our vehicle.
“Helping” was the problem, not the solution.
Recently, I saw a friend on Facebook comment on one of the videos out of Aleppo that “America needs to do something.” My first thought was that our “helping” was the problem, not the solution.
President Obama famously issued Syria a ‘red line’ warning about using chemical weapons in 2012. Later, when the U.N. claimed that line was crossed, we increased support for the “Moderate Rebels” to oppose the Syrian government, and by extension, Russia.
I will not suggest there are not battles worthy of fighting, or principles that should not be defended. What I am suggesting is that we doused this region in gasoline, stood back and struck a match. It is civilians who are caught up in the mess. Sadly, even if Assad were to be overthrown (which seems increasingly unlikely) the nation would undoubtedly be led by an even more intolerable ruler. This is a lesson that should have been learned from American “help” in Libya and Iraq.
Granted, the Bible has a lot to say about helping your neighbor in need.
Be generous to the poor—you’ll never go hungry;
shut your eyes to their needs, and run a gauntlet of curses.
– Proverbs 28:27 The Message
So, despite what I’ve said here, don’t mistake selfishness or laziness with charity. Let’s break it down. I suppose there are 5 options before you.
- Try to do good, make things better
- Try to do good, make things unintentionally worse
- Do nothing, (This is the most common, and by default, things get worse)
- Try to do bad, make things unintentionally better
- Try to do bad, make things worse
As mentioned in Option 3, doing nothing generally leads to things getting worse by virtue of residing in a fallen earth. People attempting 4 and 5 are probably too busy watching YouTube videos of people kicking puppies to bother reading this article.
I just want to save you from Option 2. If it weren’t possible to “grow weary” in well-doing, the Bible wouldn’t caution us to guard against it. I believe an effective way to prevent that from happening is to be able to see the positive impact your life has made.
The world is full of people working tirelessly for causes that would be better off without their help. Don’t squander your life like that. Seek God’s wisdom in how to apply your talents to the things you’re most passionate about. Until then, just don’t make things worse!
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