When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. – 1 Cor 13:11
I remember once, back when I was a teenager, my silly machinations about and interpretations of the Word of God. There was one time that a friend and I wanted to go somewhere or do something and would need parental permission to accomplish it. I had no problem here, because my record was clean and I knew my parents wouldn’t have any issues with what we wanted to do. He on the other hand had recently run afoul of his parents’ good graces. I can’t recall off-hand whether it was issues with grades, or reckless driving, or some other responsibility he had let lapse (it doesn’t change the story). Anyway, he asked and was summarily rejected, and so we did not go gallivanting off to whatever nonsense we were interested in at the time.
I recall being incensed by the whole affair. As I meandered through the Bible I had recently come across the sermon on the mount in Matthew. In particular, I considered (because I really wanted this thing to happen) that Matthew 7:7 was relevant here: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” How could it be, I wondered, that these parents would so clearly disregard the Biblical directives on parenting? Their child had asked and they had sent him away packing. When I was a child, I thought like a child …
In hindsight my interpretations were obviously absurd. I would no doubt have benefited from first re-reading the few surrounding verses:
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Alas, there was clearly context for what Jesus had to say – it wasn’t a carte blanche for the kids to get everything they wanted just by asking. This is what happens when we make huge, broad-sweeping generalized claims about a single verse here and there without at least considering the rest of the Bible … or even the rest of the chapter.
Honestly the whole thing reminds me a bit of an exchange from O’ Brother Where Art Thou, when Pete and Delmar were hoping that salvation would get them off the hook with the criminal justice system:
Pete: The Preacher said it absolved us.
Ulysses Everett McGill: For him, not for the law. I’m surprised at you, Pete, I gave you credit for more brains than Delmar.
Delmar O’Donnell: But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.
Ulysses Everett McGill: That’s not the issue Delmar. Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the State of Mississippi’s a little more hard-nosed.
I bring these hopefully humorous examples up in response to several articles I’ve read recently over at Real Clear Religion. The first is linked from America Magazine, titled “Rebutting Ryan” where Kevin Clarke attempts to diminish Paul Ryan’s budget proposal on moral, defend-the-poor grounds. (I have no intention of defending Paul Ryan – but I will have a few words to say about Mr. Clarke’s argumentation of the issue.) Mr. Clarke’s position is one we’ve heard time and again – that the government ought to address human needs, particularly for the poor, and that any attempts to cut funding from social programs is immoral and cuts against Biblical teachings. I think my disagreement with this notion has been stated time and again – namely that you cannot be “generous” in any morally meaningful sense of the word, with other people’s money.
We’re obviously not going to solve the whole government-benevolence issue here, but there is a second story that we can hopefully put to rest rather quickly. It comes from one Susan Thistlewaite over at the Washington Post titled “Forgive Us Our Student Loan Debt.” Her argument? Jesus told us to pray, in The Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” – therefore we should forgive all student loan debt. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. Let’s recap: because Jesus said “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” we should undertake, as government policy, to forgive (on behalf of the folks who made the loans, including the taxpayers) all student loan debt everywhere. Or, to put it another way, because Jesus said “ask and you shall receive” parents should give their kids everything they ever ask for.
OK, let’s try the simple things. You cannot be “benevolent” with other people’s money. You cannot “forgive” debt between two other parties. Nor is it benevolent to use the power of the vote to take from one and give to another (or, in the case of debt to “forgive” on behalf of the one to the benefit of the other). You can moralize all you want about how the person with the power/leverage should do this or that, but to enforce your moralizations by the power of the ballot is well beyond what the Golden Rule allows.