This post continues my series on Cathleen Falsani’s Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008). The topic for today is goodness.

When Cathleen Falsani was in Africa, she met a little boy named Vasco, who had a life-threatening heart condition. The following is her account of what she did in response:

I couldn’t fix Vasco’s heart myself, but I could tell his story. When I got home to Chicago, I did just that, writing about Vasco and his plight in a column for the Sun-Times. The response from readers was astounding. People from all over wrote and phoned in, offering to contribute to a fund for Vasco’s medical needs. My friend from the Jewish Federation in Chicago sent me an email asking what she could do to help.

“Pray,” I said.

“I’m not praying,” she said. “I’m making phone calls.”

My column ran on a Friday morning. By the end of the business day, she had convinced two hospitals to treat Vasco for free if we could get him to the United States. A family in the suburbs that had adopted a child from Africa offered to pay for his travel to the U.S. or whatever else he might need to go for treatment. An immigration lawyer came forward to help with bureaucratic red tape. Hundreds of people told me they were keeping Vasco in prayer, reminding his Maker to keep a special eye on the frail child in his little hut on the outskirts of one of the poorest cities in the world. (202-203)

This quote brings three things to my mind:

1. My impression of the Jewish community (which could be right or wrong) is that it’s a big family, which includes doctors and lawyers and politicians and a host of other people. I’m not surprised that the lady from the Jewish Federation of Chicago could get things done by simply making a few phone calls. She had quite a network to draw upon!

2. I’m amazed by the goodness and badness of human nature. People can be extremely generous, yet they can also be callous, greedy, selfish, and uncaring.

People can fall inside the polarities of either good or evil, but often they find themselves in a mixed, murky area. I thought about this last week when I watched Miss Evers‘ Boys, a movie about the Tuskegee experiment of the 1930’s. Essentially, the U.S. government ordered an African-American doctor and nurse to withhold treatment from black syphilis victims, leading to their deaths. Although the doctor and nurse felt guilty, they obeyed the orders because they hoped to gain respect for African-Americans within the scientific community. Their motives were good and evil, in that they sought scientific advancement and the progress of African-Americans, even as they ended up devaluing the lives of those in their care.

At my Latin mass last Sunday, the priest talked about human nature after the Fall. He said that he disagreed with Protestants who view humans as corrupt, as he pointed out that Adam and Eve did not become monsters after they ate the forbidden fruit (which he said could be symbolic). Rather, certain supernatural graces were withheld from them, yet there were good aspects of their nature that remained intact.

I’m not sure what to think about human nature. I can’t say it’s totally bad apart from Christ, since there are non-Christians who think and do good things. But, to remain a Christian in good standing, I have to believe that human nature is somehow flawed or out-of-whack without Christ.

3. Should the government take care of people, or is that the job of individuals? Liberals would probably say “both,” even though there are prominent liberal politicians who don’t give much to private charities. And many conservatives argue that charity is the job of the private sector, not the government.

Both sides make valid points. I once heard a conservative argue that the government doesn’t need to do charity because the American people are perfectly willing to help others out–after floods, earthquakes, etc. Certainly they wouldn’t let anyone fall through the cracks, he maintained!

I think people can be quite generous in catastrophic situations, but would they be willing to make a long-term commitment? Health care in America is expensive. Would rich Americans be willing to pay the monthly health insurance premiums of poor and middle-class Americans? I can’t envision them making that kind of commitment!

On the other hand, do we want people to live off the charity of others? The private sector may be less tolerant of that than the government (to a certain extent).

There’s something beautiful about people jumping in and helping a kid with a weak heart. At the same time, there are many people in America who lose their livelihoods because they get sick. I don’t want to get rid of the spontaneous generosity of the American people as individuals. But I wonder if relying on that kind of generosity is always reliable for those who need help.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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