Does a Concept of Faith Blame the Victim?

In the most recent episode of “It’s Really That Simple” (the podcast that my lovely wife Christy and I co-host), Christy and I talked about our thought of simplicity in trusting God.  If you have a half-hour free, I’d encourage you to go and listen to that episode, as it will form the basis for this post.  However, I’ll also try to summarize as much as I can so that you get the gist of what we discussed.

As an example of trusting God, we talked about the daily provision of food.  Jesus told us in Matthew 6 that we should not worry about food or clothing, but that we should seek after the kingdom of God, and everything that we need will be provided for us.

In response to that episode, my favorite skeptic/agnostic/atheist (depending on the context in which he labels himself!) Sid Faiwu (not his real name, by the way, and it’s pronounced FAY-woo, as I have taken a long time to learn!) asked a very good question.  I will repost the entire relevant part of his comment here so that you don’t have click over if you really don’t want to…

Taking literally the idea that if one trusts God, then one will be provided with food, clothing, etc. is morally problematic. Every true statement’s contrapositive is also true. The belief you hold to be true is:

If one trusts God, then one will always have enough food.

It’s contrapositive is:

If one doesn’t [sic] not have enough food, then one does not trust God.

It means that if someone starves or is starving, then it’s their own fault for not trusting God. It blames the victim. I’d imagine this is why so few people take this part of the Bible as literal truth.

Secondly, I’d argue that such a belief is simply false. It suggests that Christians should never starve if they truly trust God. I would argue that of all the Christians who have died of starvation over the centuries, at least one of them trusted God in this way. She/He trusted God to provide and he failed to come through.

I completely understand where Sid is coming from on this.  And on the surface, I would agree that it sounds more like blaming the victim.  But I think there are some assumptions made in Sid’s argument that could use a little scrutiny.

First of all, I don’t think there’s any way to argue the actual point regarding contrapositives.  Sid is entirely correct that the contrapositive must be true.  It’s in the evaluation of that contrapositive that I think there are some problems.

Sid says that the original statement by Jesus is morally problematic.  I’m not sure about the “morally” part, because I think that putting the responsibility on someone is not necessarily “blaming the victim”.  In fact, the very phrase “blaming the victim” causes problems because it assumes victim status where none has been established.  In other words, if the words of Jesus here are, in fact, correct, then one who does not heed his words would not be a victim.  They would, in the words found elsewhere in scripture, “reap what they sow”.

So, from that standpoint, I think we need to withhold judgment on whether or not someone is a “victim”.  Let me explain a bit further.  The concept of trusting God (or “faith”) appears many, many times in the New Testament (especially, the four gospels) in conjunction with healing.  Now, I know that we’ve discussed this on this blog in the past, but I think that often we put the cart before the horse. Rather than assuming that Jesus was telling the truth, we try to find other explanations for what we see.

I’ve said it before here: Read the four gospels and make a note of anytime Jesus heals someone from a physical illness.  In those instances, note how often Jesus comments about their faith.  Statements like “your faith has healed you”, or “if you believe, all things are possible” jump out at me.  They are not isolated statements. They are woven consistently through every physical healing with very little exception.

Today, however, when someone does not get healed, and one dares to raise the question of faith, emotional responses often claim that we’re “blaming the victim”.  But if that is true, why did Jesus talk so much about faith in those situations?

From that standpoint, the passage regarding food and clothing is not anything out of the ordinary for Jesus.  In fact, I think it is entirely consistent with the rest of his teaching.  Faith is an integral part of receiving what the Father provides.

Take the story of the prodigal son.  While he was sitting in the pig pen wishing he could eat the scraps he was feeding the pigs, was he a victim?  He was the son of a man who was providing everything he needed — food, clothing, shelter — and yet he had not received what his father was providing because he left home.  He was not a victim.  He received the consequences of his own choices.

Sometimes the situation is not so clear.  One may claim they are trusting God for their provision, but maybe they are hiding their own doubt and worry.  Maybe they are seeking after their own provisions and not really seeking first the kingdom of God, as Jesus instructed.  We can’t judge their hearts, obviously, but I think it doesn’t really make sense to just throw out the words of Jesus in our own lives because of what we think is going on in someone else’s.

Let me turn, now, to the second objection Sid raises.  I have to admit that Sid surprised me with this one, because Sid is usually very concerned about empirical evidence.  Verifiable facts.  And yet here, he throws in a highly hypothetical situation, rolling the dice of history and assuming that somehow he can roll the right number.

Sid says, “…of all the Christians who have died of starvation over the centuries, at least one of them trusted God in this way.”  This pits the statement of Jesus against some “odds” that seem pretty incredible.  I would argue that this is not a logical argument, and therefore is not valid.

It’s not able to be proven or disproven because we can’t go back through history and interview those who have died.  In fact, I would say that there is stronger evidence (eyewitness, even) for the resurrection of Jesus, yet Sid rejects that account, by his own admission.  Yet, in this case, Sid is willing to pit the words of Jesus against unknown, unverifiable, unrecorded “witnesses”.

All I can offer, Sid, is my own testimony.  My own eyewitness account.  I have shared some of these accounts on this blog and on the “Beyond the Box” podcast in the past, so I won’t recount them now.  But if there are any questions, I’ll gladly share them again.  I can’t answer for anyone else, but I have found the words of Jesus — all of them that we have recorded — to be accurate, truthful, and consistent in my life.  When I have trusted my Father, I have never been disappointed.  I have never been rejected by him.  And whatever he has promised has come to pass.  When I have not trusted him, I have found that the consequences of not trusting him have borne out the very promises he made — I have, indeed, reaped what I have sown.

Now, before I close, allow me to say a brief word about “faith”.  Hebrews 11:1 defines faith for us.  I like the way the New International Version words it: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Faith is not always based on what we see or what we can touch or what we can prove with our senses.  Faith believes that truth can sometimes supercede evidence.

I know that sounds wacky to some, but I hope you can understand where I’m coming from.  Right now, in fact, we are going through another mini-financial crisis in our family.  A check that was supposed to arrive over a week ago (a substantial part of our monthly income) has not arrived.  We honestly don’t know how we will pay for stuff this week.  Bills that are due, rent that will be due on the 1st, food and gas that are needed this week — we don’t know how we will pay for all of that.

But we trust.  Why? Because of our faith.  Because we know that God has promised.  And in addition to that faith, we have the track record behind us to prove it.  Whenever I have sought the kingdom of God first in my life, all of my needs have been provided for.  Sometimes in really cool “miraculous” ways, sometimes in much more ordinary ways.  But always, always, always, my Father has kept his word.

So, does believing that faith is something we possess and exercise put blame on someone else who doesn’t?  That’s not really the point.  The point is, Jesus said that we can trust the Father for this, and I have found it to be true in my life.  That is the testimony I provide.

Until next time,

steve :)

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11 Responses to Does a Concept of Faith Blame the Victim?

  1. sidfaiwu says:

    Hello Steve,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I’m glad you carefully considered my position.

    First, allow me to define what I mean by ‘vicitm’. A victim is one who is harmed by events outside their own control. What we seem to disagree on is how much control an individual has. Your belief puts control of sustenance in the hands of individuals based on their faith whereas I believe that to some extent, sustenance is at the mercy of the natural environment.

    Consider famine due to drought that effects an entire country. The people starving in such a situation are victims of famine because the drought was outside of their control. Using your belief system, you would have to admit that those starving are “reaping what they sowed”; that the lack of food is not because of lack of rain but because of lack of faith. I blame the weather, you blame the faithlessness.

    The trouble is, we can empirically demonstrate that droughts have caused famine. By your own admission, we cannot know the minds of people thus you cannot empirically demonstrate that lack of faith caused famine even once. You have faith that faithlessness leaves individuals wanting. Such reasoning is circular.

    Sure, my second objection is hypothetical. It is entirely possible that every single person who ever died of starvation didn’t trust God to provide. I was just saying that I find that very unlikely. Since you (via the Gospels) have extended the idea that faith provides to the area of healing, I find it even more unlikely. This means that every single one of the billions who have died of starvation or disease did so because of a lack of faith in God. This includes the third of the Christian Europe’s population that died of the Bubonic Plague at one point as well as every cancer victim (or non-victim but sower-reaper from your point of view).

    I do find it incredibly hard to believe that every one of these people didn’t have faith in God to provide food and/or healing. It’s possible that every single person who died of disease or starvation did so because of a lack of faith, I just find it more likely that at least ONE of those billions did have faith. Since this is not an empirically-derived belief on my part, I hold it tentatively. If you can prove that every last one of those people didn’t trust God in that way, I’ m willing to change that belief.

    I have one, final, off-topic (but I can’t help myself) note.

    “I would say that there is stronger evidence (eyewitness, even) for the resurrection of Jesus yet Sid rejects that account, by his own admission”

    I don’t reject any eyewitness accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, I reject the multiple translations of the translation of the multiple transcriptions of a politically-selected subset of the self-declared eyewitness accounts written decades after the supposed resurrection of Jesus, some of which may have been based on oral-tradition. It’s a little different. ;)

  2. Mike says:

    Hey Steve,

    It has been a long time since I’ve posted or even visited your site. Just happened to click through ded’s site. Not to be harsh in my comments, just curious your response to the following:

    First, a quick observation:

    Funny that this debate goes on between those writing (or just reading) with full bellys and enough leisure time to twaddle around the internet.

    Ok, now for the real comment:

    Assuming that all starving adults have somehow had a lapse or lack of faith as the fault of their condition, let’s take a look at children.

    On the average, a child dies every 5 seconds as a result of hunger – 700 every hour – 16 000 each day – 6 million each year – 60% of all child deaths (2002-2008 estimates).

    That stat is from Wikipedia’s ‘starvation’ page.

    So what exactly did those children sow that caused them to reap death via a slow painful process of starvation?

    -mike

  3. Teresa says:

    To Mike, and to Steve:
    Just a comment in response to both of your comments, from my own point of view.
    First, Mike, we assume that the world works in God’s way, which is not true. If our world is fallen, then God has to intervene to bless us. In other words, the world is a mere shadow of God plan for it, so the natural condition of the world is suffering, death and inadequacy. Children suffer as a result of that condition, and although God is sovereign, the fact that he does not intervene is different from the idea that he caused the condition to begin with. If we can believe the Bible, He did not. He did give us, as Christians, however, the job of doing what we can to alleviate suffering.
    When we start with that understanding – that we live in a flawed world, it is easier to accept the suffering of the faithful. Jesus never promised that we would be full and happy. He promised that we would have what we need. As hard as it is for us to accept, the only thing we NEED in the heavenly economy — is God. Even in Matthew 6, Jesus said: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” I think he’s saying that God will provide what we need. Often in his mercy he blesses us with what our bodies need. But he ALWAYS blesses us with what our souls need – Himself.

  4. Teresa says:

    Part 2 –
    The idea that we should not fear, then, is the very difficult concept of trusting that even if we never get food, even if we never get what we ask for, even if we die, God is still good, God is still in control, and everything is still alright.
    Understand, as Mike said, I write this with a full belly, and having all my bodily needs met. I hope to never find out if I would continue to be faithful in a time of dire need.

  5. ded says:

    So….developing an undertanding of what constitutes the gaining of sustenance pouring from God into the believer’s soul would seem an important pursuit whatever the future may hold.

    I may find myself with one small meal of bread a day in the future. Though over time, this might even be a starvation scenario, that meager meal will meet my need for the day and my soul will know peace in the midst of that physical abasement.

    In this situation both is the Father a faithful God and I am a man faithful to loving Him.

    It is easy to see the evil of this fallen world and use it to justify belittling God or denying Him. When those who profess Christ do not appear to be in line with either man’s dogma nor God’s material blessing, God is especially maligned. so little we understand of the difference between a profession of faith and a practice of faith!

    What do we say of the one who subsists on meager amounts but who is hospitable in spirit anyway and practically shares with someone else? Is man good in this circumstance? What about all our experience of human nature as self-oriented even greedy? How do we explain the phenomena of generosity from meager resources?

    If a human manifests an astonishing goodness counter to the reality of evil around us, is this evidence of an eternal God? Or do we sigh relief that our faith in human kindness is restored, thus allowing ourselves a way of patting ourselves on the back while we mutter charges against God?

  6. mike says:

    @ Teresa,

    Sorry for the delay in responding. I’ve typed a couple of things, only to delete them. First, I do not assume the world work’s in God’s way. And that is precisely the point I was trying to make. When good things happen, most people in the church praise God, but when bad things happen, they write it off to not understanding God’s plans.

    The fact of the matter is people cause most of the problems in the world. And many use religious over or undertones to back up their actions, no matter how out of sync they may be with a creator.

    It is interesting that you say I make an assumption about how the world works, yet you make the assumption that the world is merely a shadow if the way God intended for it to work.

    I think if you were to ask someone who didn’t have a full belly, and according to the latest U.N. report that number has now reached over a billion, they would disagree that God always provides what we need.

    Our full, American bellies are a main cause of other’s hunger. And we make it even worse with our quick quoting of scripture stating God always provides.

    @ded,

    A first glance, I would agree with your day-to-day scenerio. But I would argue that none of us on this blog could make that argument effectively because we have never been in such a scenerio. We may like to think that would be our reaction, but until we are thrust into such a situation, we can never know for sure. Therefore it is merely hypothetical.
    -mike

  7. Mike, ok I definitely get your point, and obviously you feel strongly about it. I’m not entirely sure how I’m supposed to respond since your comment carries with it an undertone (and a not-so-subtle one at that) of accusation against the view I espoused in this post.

    That’s fine. I don’t have any problem with someone taking issue with what I’ve written, and you’re very welcome to do so here.

    The problem I have, though, with your responses is that it begs a very serious question in my mind: How do you, Mike, interpret or explain the words of Jesus in the passages to which I have referred?

    The way I see it, we have very few options:

    1. Jesus never said the words that we have recorded.
    2. Jesus meant something other than what he said.
    3. Jesus meant what he said, but meant it differently than we think he did.
    4. Jesus meant what he said, meant exactly what we think he meant, but was wrong.

    I don’t see any other options. But rather than add to the problem of world hunger by re-articulating my view (?!?), I think the burden is squarely on your shoulders, brother, to set me and others straight as to what Jesus really said and meant.

    Jesus and his disciples did not lack for anything to eat, so does that disqualify Jesus from commenting on the need for food? If we, with our “full bellies” to which you referred, are not allowed to have such discussions, then surely Jesus was also overstepping the bounds when he pronounced such things.

    The bottom line for me is, whether or not you agree with me, what do you think about what Jesus said? Basically, all I have done is say what Jesus said and present my own testimony of how that has been true in my life. What did Jesus really mean, Mike? (And no, that’s not a rhetorical question.)

  8. mike says:

    Sigh. I’m sorry you thought my initial comment was accusatory, it wasn’t intended to be. I know that any critical comment can be taken in such a way, even if it was meant to be read in a conversational tone. I was trying to defuse that misinterpretation by saying, “Not to be harsh in my comments, just curious your response to the following.”

    So when you state you are not sure how to respond because of the tone of my comment, I can only say that I was merely looking for your thoughts and answer to the question I posed.

    My comment about full-bellies doesn’t mean we can’t discuss this issue at all. I just meant that our perspective is probably a lot different than say a homeless person, or a person in a war-torn country, or a person in a land of drought. I think it is essential that we recognize that fact in these discussions, that’s all.

    Actually, I’d like to ask a favor. Could we go back to my original question and then I’ll dive into my thoughts on Jesus’ words?

    The reason I ask for that favor is that I find these conversations tend to go off track when other questions are brought up before the first is answered.

    The reason I asked it in the first place was because your post seemed to based on two things. The first being, that you say “all you can offer,” as proof, “is your own testimony.” The second thing is cause and effect, or in your post, sow and reap.

    So to me your post seemed to extrapolate your experiences into everyone’s experience. Now I’ve read your blog many times and we’ve commented back and forth before, so I posed my question for you to further expand on those two things.

    I made my comment brief, not to be smarmy, but to not plant any bias. Unfortunately, it seemed to backfire. So could we start there, with this question?

    What, exactly, did starving children sow that caused them to reap death via the slow painful process of starvation?

    In hopes of keeping this conversation alive,
    -mike

  9. Mike, fair enough, and I’m sorry for misreading your tone. I was reacting, in part, to statements such as: “Our full, American bellies are a main cause of other’s hunger. And we make it even worse with our quick quoting of scripture stating God always provides.” That sounded to me like you were saying that I am one who is making the problem worse because I believe that God always provides for those who trust him, and I base that on scripture.

    I wasn’t attempting to dodge your question. My answer to your question, however, is actually tied to my question to you in response, and hopefully you’ll see why in this explanation.

    Here’s my position: Jesus said that we can trust the Father for provision of food and clothing. I have found that to be true in my life. Many people say we can’t trust those words of Jesus, or that they mean something else, or that he didn’t say them in the first place. Jesus said the Father provides for those who trust him. People starve to death. What do we do with that contradiction?

    The problem is that I can’t answer for others (which is why I offered my own testimony). I don’t have answers to suffering or starvation. The way I see it, though, I can interpret that one of two ways: I can either interpret the words of Jesus through the grid of trying to figure out why other people have different experiences, or I can trust the words of Jesus and live by them, even if I don’t have the answers about others.

    To give it a shot at answering your question, though…Perhaps, the issue of children starving might be related to those who have the responsibility for those children. Young children are obviously not able to reason out issues of faith. They trust their caregivers implicitly (which is, I think, why Jesus said we should come “as little children” and implicitly trust our Caregiver). If those caregivers let them down, is that the child’s fault? Not hardly. Does my 2-year-old trust the Father for her provision? No, she trusts her mother and me. We have the responsibility to trust the Father in order to fulfill our child’s trust in us. Our provision comes from him. Her provision also comes from him, but she sees it at this point as coming from us. Therefore, it is our responsibility to follow the words of Jesus on her behalf.

    But I’m just surmising there. Honestly, I wish I DID have an answer to your question. It would be nice to have it all figured out. But I don’t. For me, it’s not so much about asking, “Can I trust the Father if other people are starving despite what Jesus said?” For me it’s a matter of, “If Jesus said this about the Father, can I trust it despite what I see in others?” I think the answer is a resounding “yes”.

    It’s not “this is my experience, so everyone else’s experience is to be interpreted through mine.” I just simply have found that when I trust the Father, the words of Jesus have been absolutely true in my life. Why would Jesus make such a claim if it wasn’t supposed to bear out in our lives?

    See, in my post, the main point I was trying to make is that if the words of Jesus are true, then we can’t place the blame for lack of provision on the Father, as Sid was saying. Which is why in response to your question, I asked you what to do with the words of Jesus. If my explanation of the words of Jesus is not correct (a point on which I am more than willing to be rebutted and convinced otherwise), then what should we think when Jesus promises that provision through the Father?

    It is the words of Jesus that are the central issue here. So my question wasn’t to go off track at all, but rather to bring the discussion back to the central point.

  10. mike says:

    No problems, emails and comments get misread all the time.

    I think we should look at Jesus’ words as a whole.

    For example, Matthew 6:31 should go along with Matthew 25:35-45. And I think we should also look at John the Baptists’ words in Luke 3:11 as well.

    I feel what is being talked about is personal action to show a better way. And it wasn’t like he didn’t give fair warning about the cost of discipleship in Luke 14:28-33.

    By attributing the good actions of humans to God and leaving the bad actions unaccounted for, we lose the human culpability for any action.

    Therefore a majority of Christians in America have no idea what is done on their behalf by corporations and government. They say what you say, that God provides for them because they are obedient and have no real answer for the suffering that takes place outside of our borders.

    Or they chalk it up to the devil or God’s mysterious ways.

    When in fact if the suffering was truly traced back to its origins, we would find that a lot of it falls in the lap of the dominant empire of the time. For us it is America. Several generations ago it was the British Empire. And so on and so on.

    I think this comes down to a very important, very contentious issue. The Church follows the words of Paul more than the words of Jesus.

    Instead of doing as Jesus told the adultrous woman, “Go and sin no more,” when the Church sins, it chooses instead to follow the words of Paul, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.”

    In truth, I have started to wonder if the Church should call itself Paulists instead of Christians.

    -mike

  11. Königstochter says:

    “it doesn’t really make sense to just throw out the words of Jesus in our own lives because of what we think is going on in someone else’s.”

    Amen!