I had the opportunity recently to hear Leigh Anne Touhy speak at a function recently. Her effort to rescue a young black man from the streets of Memphis was immortalized in the Michael Lewis book “The Blind Side” and a movie by the same name.
Leigh Anne saw a person walking down the street in shorts and no coat on a cold day in November. She turned the vehicle around and asked the young man if they could do anything to help him. He only wanted to be dropped off at the closest express bus stop. Later, Leigh Anne, not willing to be satisfied, went to the school where this young man, Michael Oher, had recently transferred. She was told repeatedly to drop her interest in the young boy as he was a lost cause.
You probably know the story – this lost cause, adopted by the Touhy family, played football at the University of Mississippi and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.
In her presentation, Leigh Anne also told the story of the father and son walking down the beach after a storm. The boy was busy throwing starfish that had been washed ashore back into the water. When his father asked the boy why he thought he could make a difference, the boy replied, tossing the starfish back into the water, “I made a difference to that starfish.”
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She also talked of her faith in God, relaying that we are not to be the judge of those in need. God will judge those who receive our help, and God will judge us for our help or non-help of others.
As she talked of this topic, I was reminded of the scripture in the sermon by King Benjamin regarding retaining a remission of one’s sins found in Mosiah, chapter 4:
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
In this day, can we rightly assume that ‘the government’ will step in to help those who are in need of succor? With the great safety net provided to all who reside in our country’s borders, are there any truly needy?
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
Did the person in need not try hard enough in school? Did they choose to be lazy? Were they not given the appropriate role models to understand how to be successful?
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
No place in the kingdom of God if one does not help the needy? How much background information do we need before we should be willing to help?
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
What is really ours? We are born, we live, we pass away. We are not able to take any of our substance, our gold and silver and riches, with us when we move on.
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
Does receiving a remission of our sins not bring joy into our lives? Does it ‘rewire’ our view of others? Being born again does fill our hearts with joy. It does change our view of our place in the world.
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
Does becoming a son or daughter of God place us in a position of responsibility to help those around us who are in need?
22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
Does the beggar need to be in danger of perishing before we are obligated to help? How do we know when this is the case?
23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.
Who, reading this, could not be considered ‘rich’ today when those considered poor have access to food stamps and free cell phones?
24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.
25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.
If one is poor relative to the things of the world and hates his neighbor who has more, they are equally condemned?
26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.
We are told in these verses that we are all beggars, that we are to share of our substance with those that are less fortunate without judgment. We cannot know what is in the heart of those people we see who are in need. As I pondered these things, my mind went back to those occasions when I was too busy to stop for a moment and provide financial help to those who are less fortunate. I asked myself if I would have taken the same steps as Leigh Anne Touhy and turned around to help a black youth on the streets of Memphis. I doubt I would have had the courage.
Rock Waterman, in his June post, http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2013/06/of-alms-and-offerings.html, hit the nail on the head. It is easy for many of us to make the assumption that we are covered because of our donations to the church. We give our tithing, fast offerings and other items by check each month and are absolved of any need to help? I believe that is not the case. We are, as instructed, in the passage above, to help those people in need that we encounter on a daily basis. We are to give of our substance to those people who are less fortunate. We are to do it without judgment
Leigh Anne told a story of her son at a gas station. The electronics at the pump were not working so all customers had to go inside to prepay. As her son, Collin, waited to pay, the man ahead of him gave the clerk a $5 bill. Questioning, in his mind, why someone would only ask for five dollars worth of gas, Collin reached forward and added a $20 bill to the man’s request.
Outside, the man came to Collin with tears in his eyes. He didn’t have enough money to pay for gas to get to work that week. Both the man and Collin went away from the event with joy in their hearts.
We are told in the scriptures that it is our obligation to help those in need. We cannot know the true circumstances of another person, only God does. I recall, years ago, going to catch a flight at O’Hare airport in Chicago. I came across a nicely dressed man who asked me for some change to make a telephone call (this is before the era of cell phones). I gave him several coins and went on my way. The next week, I saw the same man who made the same request. I challenged him on being there a week earlier and refused to give him any assistance.
I look back now on that experience. The man was not enhungered, he did not appear to be destitute, he was wearing nice clothes. I judged him as being deceitful and did not give him of my substance. Is there an obligation on the part of the ‘poor’ to be honest? Was it judgmental of me to not give the man more money?
There is a lot of deceit in the world today. We see scams and viruses, derivatives and pyramid schemes. We see reports of the activity of greed swirling about us. There is a natural reaction to question the motives and real circumstances of anyone who approaches us. I can only hope to rely on the Spirit to guide me in these circumstances.
If we are to ‘retain a remission of our sins’ as promised by King Benjamin, we are required to give of our substance without questioning the motive of the poor. We are to feed the hungry, provide clothing to the naked and provide spiritual nourishment to those in need. A giver and a receiver.
In the end, all my questions are moot. There is little room for self analysis. If we are to be about God’s work, we should be looking for ways, after the poor are clothed and fed, to seek to uplift them spiritually. To expand our vision beyond our little spot on earth is very challenging. There is much hunger and nakedness in the world at large, how are we to make a difference in this vast ocean of pain, misery, hunger, disease, malnutrition, and filth?
The physician we have chosen to use locally spends much of his time in places where people are in great need. He uses the income from his practice to participate in Doctors without Borders. He collects computers and has volunteers who help him prepare them for use in areas where he visits. He has adopted a school in Haiti that takes much of his time and energy. There are others that give of their time and talents to help those unfortunate enough to be born in the ‘wrong’ place.
Is doing good healthy? In a recent study conducted by scientists at UCLA and the University of North Carolina found that there were positive immune system affects from living a ‘purposeful’ life, while a hedonistic life style had an adverse affect at the genetic level. Here is a quote from BioscienceTechnology.com:
People who have high levels of what is known as eudaimonic well-being— the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life (think Mother Teresa)— showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.
However, people who had relatively high levels of hedonic well-being— the type of happiness that comes from consummatory self-gratification (think most celebrities)— actually showed just the opposite. They had an adverse expression profile involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.