Archive: Some ABC’s of World Hunger

by Rev. Dr. Robert W. Sprinkle Director, Community Outreach Ministries, St. Petersburg, Florida
former member, Good News Board of Directors

The world’s food crisis is not, in any simple sense, an “act of God.” It has taken several centuries of careful human ingenuity to produce it. Even the hungriest part of the world—also, of course, the poorest—has nonetheless been the recipient of at least the rudiments of modern technology. The technology has lowered infant mortality rates, curbed some diseases, made whole nations dependent on imported fertilizer, and otherwise made the underdeveloped nations part of a worldwide interdependent economy.

Now it becomes clear that the promises implicit in the technology we have exported (promises proclaimed worldwide via electronic media) are only one side of the coin. Humankind’s techniques and systems, used and controlled as they are on spaceship earth, are now having the unwanted effect of making starvation and malnutrition possible on a far grander scale than ever before.

Today’s scenario of starvation is a profoundly human product. We each and all are responsible because, in spite of our wonderful technology, millions starve while others grow fat. Answers—solutions—are hard to come by, even for those who can brave the mountains of facts to reach their own conclusions. Solutions are not clear and agreed upon, and there is the growing doubt whether any of our political and economic systems have the will, the vision, or the mechanisms to implement such solutions. This is especially doubtful where such solutions entail significant sacrifices on the part of people who now enjoy abundance and power.

Our situation, then, in all its promise and despair, is precisely that of fallenness. We see in ourselves, individually and collectively, a twisted divine image and bondage to both self-interest and apathy. Our responsibility to have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:27,28), confronts our failure even to provide food for our world’s children. Therefore who is free of condemnation?

But a sentence of “guilty” should not be the final verdict when Christians deal with any problem. That is not where we stand, because in Christ is the possibility of solution to all problems.

Not only can the world’s food shortage and oversupply of people teach us about abdicated responsibility and human fallenness; it can also show us how better to live by God’s grace and grace alone. And in the freedom that grace provides, in the new creation that Christ brings, perhaps we can grasp the power provided by the Holy Spirit to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers … and feeders.

Grace, as Bonhoeffer taught us, is costly. Discipleship (following Jesus) is not simply a guilt-trip. After our guilt is faced honestly and dealt with through the Cross, the pardoned one finds the freedom to obey and serve the life-giving Lord. One dimension of that obedience and service has to do with our relationship to the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters: in this case, those who are hungry.

Our Lord gave Himself completely for us—and for those who hunger now. Scripture dares to claim that His grace is sufficient for every human need (II Corinthians 12:7-10). He makes us instruments of that grace, in practical ways witnesses to His power and love. Our money, our time, our vision, our commitment—these can be the means of fulfilling His words and promises to the world. Our disobedience, our apathy, are not simply failures to feed an empty stomach, worst of all they are failures to obey God’s call to compassion and to make the love of God real and tangible to other people.

To respond faithfully to God in a world that hungers both physically and spiritually is to sense that one’s life in Christ can be a part of God’s strategy for dealing with these hungers. In john’s Gospel, Jesus says that the bread God gives for the life of the world is the life of His Son (6:35-59). As Christians, we are bold to reckon ourselves to be a part of His ongoing life. Are we too, then, not consecrated in some sense as God’s means for making bread available to the world through our discipleship? And is not that Bread Jesus Christ Himself, the answer to soul hunger, as well as bread which meets the hunger of our stomachs?

“Give them something to eat,” Jesus said to His disciples. He fed the multitudes with nourishment both physical and spiritual.

By itself, what they had (or what we have) is not nearly enough to go around (Matthew 14:13-21). But by miracles multitudes can be fed. We need only to put what little we have into Jesus’ hands, without reserve, simply trusting and expecting that He will multiply it miraculously, now as long ago. In His hands, by the power of the Spirit, what we have can be more than sufficient. I suspect that this is as true for the church on a global scale in feeding millions as it was for the twelve in feeding thousands (Mark 6:30-44).

Grace cost God the death of His Son (Romans 5:6-11). In response, we have the privilege of giving our lives in His service (Romans 12). To do this is to experience God’s love flowing through us, meeting both the spiritual and the physical needs of a hungering world. His love cannot be held selfishly by us—or stored; it can only be shared.

Jesus fed people on two levels—first he provided soul food (Mark 6:34), then food to keep alive the body (Mark 6:35-44). In our times it is tempting for us Christians to miss this balance-to want to concentrate on either spiritual OR physical feeding. The truth is, each is incomplete by itself. It must be both/and, not either/or. For Jesus was utterly clear that God cares for both the body AND the spirit of every person. Our temptation is to encourage some unbiblical split that would have us trying to feed one part of the person only. For example, could the starving children in Bangladesh live what God means their lives to be if we put only bread and milk on their table (if indeed they have a table)? Or if we placed Bibles in their hands (if they can read) and ignored their malnutrition? No, our model is Jesus, who offers more than enough to meet every human hunger.

In the light of the world hunger crisis, what disciplines, what programs, what personal life-style changes should the Christian community consider? There are no simple or easy answers. We have been given much in the way of technology, mobility, and freedom to choose how we will use our wealth. The basic issue is to realize that all of these resources are at God’s command to be used in ways and for purposes pleasing to Him. If we are clear at this point, we will put our resources at God’s disposal. Thus we can become part of His solution to the world hunger crisis instead of remaining part of the problem.


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