A devout father was troubled by the great economic inequality he saw in the nation. He wanted everyone to have good jobs, education, health care, homes and even some of the luxuries of life. He was particularly troubled that, often due to dysfunctional marriages, some children were severely under-privileged and handicapped in their pursuit of these goals. He believed if he and his dear wife could raise their children to willingly share and care for each other, and if these traits could be passed on to future generations, then they would have no under-privileged grandchildren. He was deeply impressed that in the early
Christian Church everyone combined their property and “distribution was made unto every man according as he had need,” (Acts 4:35). Just as this ideal system had been instituted among the “saints” of the early church they would inculcate it in their own family.
The plan seemed to be working when their older son decided to become a doctor. He applied himself to difficult science classes in college and then went on to years of post-graduate medical education and internships. Upon earning the requisite degrees and board certifications he was positioned to earn significantly above average income—the economic justification for the grueling preparation he had suffered through. In contrast, the younger son dropped out of college, joined a less than successful band, got married and started a family. The father, now a grandfather, became very concerned that these grandchildren would end up in the ranks of the under-privileged. He finally confronted his younger son and asked, “When are you going to do what it takes to provide for your family?” The answer was clear: “Dad, we’ve been taught all our lives to share. Just ask my doctor brother to trade in his big house for a duplex. We can live side by side and he can share his income and support both my family and his own.”
The father asked himself: Would the older son have made the sacrifice to become a doctor knowing half (maybe more) of his income was to be shared with his younger brother who preferred practicing the guitar to working? Was the older brother to provide college educations for all of his nieces and nephews as well as, or instead of, his own children? How long would the older brother work 24 hour shifts in the emergency room to support his younger brother’s lame band career?
In hindsight, the father realized he could have tried to force his younger son to go to college and study accounting. But his son would have rebelled at being denied his dreams. You can’t force anyone to succeed at college or in life. Respecting each person’s freedom to choose inevitably meant unequal results for the next generation. You cannot have both equal results and freedom.
The devout father was troubled by the outcome of his religiously guided plan for his family. He was somewhat comforted, however, when he discovered the Christian experiment had ended the same as his own. After (apparently) some years of attempting the communal life, when those sharing were being crushed with the burden of free-loaders, the Apostle Paul gave the church very concise and clear instructions: “this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat,” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Paul was not lacking in charity. He was not saying: “if any COULD not work, neither should he eat.” There is a big difference between those who WOULD not work and those who COULD not work. It is everyone’s duty to care for those who cannot provide for themselves. But claiming that we have a duty to provide for those who WOULD not work is neither charitable nor wise.