Conservatives, Christianity and the Benefits System

We might be responsible for getting ourselves into a mess, but does that make us ‘responsible’ for getting ourselves out of it? I use quotation marks because ‘responsible’ isn’t quite what I mean here, at least not in its usual meaning. I think what I mean is that people who are in a mess – of any sort – typically lack in and of themselves the means to solely and fully get themselves out of it.

Responsible behaviour is necessary but not sufficient (and not always necessary, if you have a rich family to bankroll you).

Christians should know this. We are responsible for our sin and for the harm it causes. But we are not in any meaningful sense ‘responsible’ for getting ourselves out of the mess we have got ourselves into, for the simple reason that we cannot in any way at all possibly get ourselves out of it.

Only God can get us out of the mess we are in. And he has – voluntarily, freely, fully and wholeheartedly. All we have to do is accept that help; help that is not just to save us, but also to help us keep out of the further mess that we inevitably end up in even as we try to fully and wholeheartedly obey God. We always need God’s ongoing grace and his help because, however hard we strive, we still fail and still do things we shouldn’t do and don’t do things which we should do.

Christians should understand this grace and, unlike the ungrateful debtor, freely and lavishly extend that same grace to others. However unworthy another person is, we can never show to others the extent of grace that God has shown to us.

When people come to understand God’s grace, the usual response is one of awe, thankfulness and praise; worship, love and adoration lived out in a life of relationship with and obedience to the one who not only made us but forgave us. When individuals experience grace from other people, there is often a related response – one that changes the individual’s heart towards right living and away from whatever behaviour it was that got them into a mess in the first place.

But this is not how our country works. Even though many Christians vote Conservative on the assumption that this party most closely matches Christian values, the traditionally Conservative belief system that people broadly get what they deserve (provided the State doesn’t interfere) is profoundly unChristian. This belief system says that poor people are poor because of moral failings – usually that they have not worked hard enough – and that it would be morally wrong to help people out of the poverty they find themselves in.

This belief system is akin to telling people trapped in a pit of mud – some of whom may have put themselves there through poor choices – that they will only receive help to get out of the pit once they have proven themselves worthy of such help by getting out of the pit.

It is completely the wrong way around. Whether or not it is true generally or specifically that a poor person is poor because of their own wilful behaviour, to leave these people to it is not Christian. It is completely contrary to the way God works, which is always and persistently to make the way for people to come back to him, however far and long and deliberately they have strayed. Even if we accept the Conservative proposition that poor people are poor because of their own fault, the response that says we do not help them until they have helped themselves is wrong.

As Christians, we should be longing for the opportunity to lavish upon others the grace that God has shown to us. God expects us to; anything less is ingratitude to him.

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