Implications of the Four Key Relationships
Adapted from When Helping Hurts.
In a previous post, we explored the significance of the four key relationships human beings are created to enjoy—with God, self, others, and creation. These relationships shed light on the complexity of human beings and help us unlock pathways toward effective poverty alleviation.
Humans As Multifaceted Creatures
Understanding the four key relationships reminds us that human beings are not just physical entities. As humans, we encompass spiritual, social, psychological, and physical dimensions. This understanding fits with how people are described in Scripture, but also challenges the tendency in Western thought to focus solely on material aspects when addressing poverty. Instead, when we are involved in poverty alleviation ministry, we should approach it in a holistic manner that considers all facets of what it means to be human.
As people created in God’s image, we shouldn’t overlook the significance of creation, from the wonders of nature, to family, education, music, agriculture, governance, and commerce. Poverty alleviation efforts should encompass the entirety of creation, including culture. This broader perspective encourages us to view impoverished communities as integral parts of the world that Christ created and sustains.
When engaging with low-income communities, it is important to recognize that Christ has been active within them since the dawn of creation and continues to be every day. The role of people with means to help address material poverty is not to introduce Christ to these communities but to join in the work God has been doing for generations. This realization should call us all to humility and awe as we acknowledge God’s work, even if the community itself may not yet grasp it fully.
The Consequences of the Fall
Of course, the biblical narrative extends beyond creation to the fall of humanity, in the disobedience of Adam and Eve. This transgression led to the immediate distortion of all four key relationships: the relationship with God shifted from intimacy to fear, self-discovery resulted in shame rather than enlightenment, blame and conflict tainted human relationships, and harmony with the rest of creation was disrupted.
The effects of the fall reverberate through human history, manifesting in economic, social, religious, and political systems. For instance, racial discrimination and environmental degradation are consequences of these broken relationships. Furthermore, our adversary and his agents continue to wage spiritual warfare against God, further impacting both individual and systemic brokenness.
Development expert Bryant Myers’s definition of poverty as “the result of relationships that do not work” offers profound insight. Poverty extends beyond material deprivation; it encompasses the absence of shalom—holistic well-being, justice, and harmony—across all dimensions of life.
A Glimmer of Hope
Despite the deep distortions caused by the fall, it is essential to recognize that everything is not as bleak as it could be. Jesus Christ continues to sustain and uphold all creation through His powerful word (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:16). Amid the brokenness, there remains inherent goodness. Flowers still bloom, kindness persists, some governments build infrastructure and prosecute injustice, and some companies pay fair wages. Even impoverished individuals and communities possess God-given gifts and assets.
Understanding the four key relationships and the repercussions of the fall offers valuable insights for addressing poverty. It underscores the need for comprehensive poverty alleviation efforts that address the entirety of human existence, including its spiritual, social, psychological, and physical dimensions. Moreover, recognizing the intrinsic goodness within creation encourages us to approach impoverished communities with humility and reverence, committed to restoring broken relationships. In doing so, we can work towards shalom, toward positive transformation in the lives of those grappling with material poverty.