When you search, “What is poverty?” on Google, it yields 169,000,000 results. Narrows things down for us, huh? From the results alone we can gather two truths: poverty is complex and there is no easy fix. If there was, there’d be one post entitled, “Nailed It: How to solve poverty in a snap.”
That’s not the world we live in. Poverty is complex because people are complex. As we begin this series, I want to give you two definitions—or rather categories of definitions—that are widely accepted.
In his book, Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development, Bryant L. Myers states, “Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.”
Myers’ camp ascribes to the idea that we are all broken, and therefore lack in certain areas (e.g., spiritually, relationally, materially). This approach brings with it a healthy dose of humility. Isn’t it safe to say we’re all poor in one way or another?
Scott C. Todd argues it isn’t.
In his book Hope Rising, Todd says, “It’s important to distinguish poverty as an economic condition with complex causes and complex consequences. Its solutions require holistic work that affects all aspects of life. But the condition itself is a lack of material sufficiency. Not all of us endure poverty’s hard realities.” He goes on to say, “We are not all poor. Some of us have been entrusted with great wealth, especially those of us who have refrigerators.”
His solution is to clarify poverty in strict reference to the World Bank’s definition of extreme poverty—living on less than $1.25 a day. 1 billion people today fit in this definition.1
Some would argue this definition alone is dangerous because it allows us to view poverty as a solely physical issue, which limits our response to a material one. And as we know, there’s more to solving the issues of poverty than just handouts (something we’ll address later in the series).
So, where does this leave us? We could argue both sides all day, but we’ll leave the final decision up to you. The important thing to note is that both of these definitions point to some type of brokenness—whether physically, spiritually or relationally. Regardless of which definition you choose, a holistic solution is necessary.
And isn’t this what Jesus has always called us to—a justice that seeps in and redeems every crevice of brokenness in our world? Next week we’ll talk about Jesus’ sense of justice and His expectation when it comes to alleviating poverty.