In a world ravaged by sin, the bitter fruits of greed, war, and ignorance are multiplying. Even in so called “affluent societies” the homelessness and the poor are growing populations. More than 10,000 people starve to death every day. Two billion more are malnourished, and thousands more go blind annually because of dietary deficiency. Approximately two-thirds of the world’s population remains caught in a cycle of hunger-sickness-death.
There are some who bear liability for their condition, but the majority of these individuals and families are destituted by political, economic, cultural, or social events largely beyond their control.
Historically, those in such circumstances have found succor and advocacy in the hearts of the followers of Jesus Christ. Caring institutions are in many cases begun by the church and later assumed by government agencies, or vice versa. These agencies, aside from any ideological altruism, reflect society’s recognition that it is in its own best interest to deal compassionately with the less fortunate.
Social scientists tell us that a number of ills find fertile ground in the conditions of poverty. Feelings of hopelessness, alienation, envy and resentment often lead to antisocial attitudes and behavior. Then society is left to pay for the after-effects of such ills through its courts, prisons, and welfare systems. Poverty and misfortune as such do not cause crime and provide no excuse for it. But when the claims of compassion are denied, discouragement, and even resentment are likely to follow.
The claims upon the Christian’s compassion are not ill-founded. They do not spring from any legal or even social contract theory, but from the clear teaching of scripture: “He has showed you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 7:8 RSV)
The fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah is precious to Seventh-day Adventists. We see our responsibility in this chapter as those raised up to be “The repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in” (verse 12).
The call is to restore and “to loose the bands of wickedness … to deal thy bread to the hungry … bring the poor that are cast out to thy house … when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him” (verses 6, 7). So as repairers of the breach, we are to restore and care for the poor. If we carry out the principles of the law of God in acts of mercy and love, we will represent the character of God to the world.
In effecting Christ’s ministry today, we must do as He did, and not only preach the gospel to the poor, but heal the sick, feed the hungry, and raise the downcast (see Luke 4:18, 19; Matt. 14:14). But verse 16 explains that it was so that “they need not go away.” Christ’s own example is determinative for His followers.
In Christ’s response to Judas’ feigned concern for the poor: “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Matt.26:11 RSV), we are reminded that it is the “Living Bread” that people most desperately need. However, we also recognize the inseparables between the physical and the spiritual. By supporting those church and public policies that relieve suffering, and by individual and united efforts of compassion, we augment that very spiritual endeavor.
This public statement was released by the General Conference president, Neal C. Wilson, after consultation with the 16 world vice presidents of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, on July 5, 1990, at the General Conference session in Indianapolis, Indiana.