One day, C.S. Lewis and a friend were walking down the road and came upon a street person who reached out to them for help. While his friend kept walking, Lewis stopped and proceeded to empty his wallet. When they resumed their journey, his friend asked, “What are you doing giving him your money like that? Don’t you know he’s just going to go squander it all?” Lewis paused and replied, “That’s all I was going to do with it.”
Every one of us has been in this situation. As soon as we see that disheveled, dirty person half a block ahead, we start planning our escape. If we can’t cross to the other side of the street, we avert our eyes or stare down at our feet and pretend we don’t see them. Once we’re past the gauntlet, we breathe a sigh of relief and thank God we made it through unscathed.
We’ve all heard the argument Lewis’s friend gives. If we give money to someone on the street, it’s going to be wasted on drugs or alcohol. Or better yet, “I know panhandlers who make more than I do.”
This is one of those tricky topics where faith and human logic run perpendicular to one another. The Bible tells us to “give to the one who begs from you” (Matthew 5:42 ESV), but common sense may tug at our coat, telling us there are better ways to help these people.
I believe we should give every time we see someone in need. Here’s why.
1. We are in no position to judge. When we turn away from the beggar, we are usurping God’s authority in several ways. First, it is not ours to judge these people going through homelessness (Matthew 7:1). That is God’s unique position. By judging them, we are telling God we know His plan better then he does.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and say the cash you just gave away is going to be completely wasted. In God’s eyes, is there any difference between a homeless man buying booze or you buying a new watch? Neither can claim to make any eternal impact for God’s Kingdom, so why do we assume our wasteful spending is any nobler? Are you prepared to cast the first stone? (John 8:7).
2. Reckless giving rocks. Sometimes we don’t give because we don’t believe God when He says He will take care of us. We lack the faith “to be generous on every occasion” because we think if we give it away we won’t have enough left for ourselves. This is just false. No one has ever become poor from giving. As Brennan Manning says, “God’s call for each of us to live a life of unlimited generosity is rooted in his limitless love and care for us.”
As I’ve stated here before, giving is as much about the giver as the recipient. Giving to panhandlers is an invaluable chance to flex that faith muscle!
3. It’s scriptural. The Bible is absolutely brimming with verses about helping the poor. We have a tendancy to take God’s word and “interpret” it to death until it fits our needs. Call me crazy, but when the Bible says “Give to everyone who asks you…” (Luke 6:30), I take it to mean, “give to everyone who asks you”. For more verses on the subject, see Proverbs 19:17, 28:27, 14:31, 1 John 3:17-18, Deut 15:7-11, Jeremiah 22:16, Matthew 5:42 and so forth and so on.
Now, giving does not HAVE to take the form of money. You can carry gift cards, food, or water as a way to give (check out my post on this here). The one thing we cannot do is ignore them.