In the beginning there was no poverty.
In the creation account, God told the man and the woman, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food,” (Genesis 1:29). Later, after the flood, he repeated the same statement to Noah and his family. “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything,” (Genesis 9:3). God created humans who needed food to live, and he provided food for these needy humans.
We typically think of dirt and seeds as so simple and ordinary as to be of interest only to farmers and gardeners. We rarely consider the power of the soil, or the potential of a seed. When a seed is put into the ground, it begins a multiplying process which is almost inconceivable. One seed produces an entire plant with many seeds, sometimes hundreds or thousands. Every seed has the power to repeat the cycle. God is the One that gives the growth to the plant. He assigns humans dominion over this process for our nourishment and sustaining. Human dominion helps the creation to flourish. The God who created a flourishing universe made humans his agents in that flourishing process. If you are flourishing, you are bringing blessing to others because you are being what God intends you to be.
What responsibility do humans have for poverty?
Earlier we pointed out that to flourish means to thrive, to expand, to prosper. The word comes from a Hebrew parah, a verb variously translated as sprout, blossom, flourish, thrive.
In God’s original design, flourishing was the normal way of things. After the fall, brokenness and withering–within human beings, their institutions, and in creation–became the “new normal.” Or to put it a little differently, the abnormal became the normal. Yet God has been working ever since to reset the creation. He is moving the creation from wasting away to flourishing. From poverty to prosperity. From disorder to order. From injustice to justice. From ignorance to knowledge. From sickness to health. From deformation to reformation.
So what does all this say about human responsibility for poverty and underdevelopment? How do we solve these problems? As a matter of fact, God has already equipped people to do that. He has provided the primary resource humans need for these solutions. What is that resource? Wisdom! Wisdom moves people from brokenness to wholeness, from poverty to flourishing, from under-development to development. Wisdom is about life and governing in the time between paradise lost and paradise restored. Wisdom and human development, or human flourishing, are organically related. The second depends on the first. But not everyone understands that.
Many people working in government programs, and relief and development organizations, look largely to money and technology to solve poverty. Both money and technology can be part of the solution. But the solution to poverty lies much deeper. Relief and development workers need to see the connection between wisdom and human development.