How Do You Respond to the Homeless?

trailI love urban bike trails.

You get to cruise past congested traffic, dense population, industry, and irritating noise on an isolated ribbon of serenity. It’s a perspective of the city unavailable to conventional forms of transportation.

Front Range FREEDOM Tour followed the South Platte Trail, which meanders along a quiet river through the heart of the entire Denver Metro area. It was possibly the most peaceful day of the tour.

Trails attract a broad cross-section of people. Among serious riders and casual cruisers you encounter runners, walkers, photographers, rollerbladers, skateboarders, and some from the edges of society.

We noticed the homeless folks.

You see them, too. Maybe you pretend to ignore the guy with the cardboard sign or the family under the bridge, but you see them. And I’ll bet you wonder about them. We did.

In a recent article, David McRaney discussed a well-known psychological phenomenon called The Just-World Fallacy. In simple terms, this is a biased worldview in which people get what they deserve.

The key word is “deserve.” It’s the idea that you get what’s coming to you, and specifically that bad things happen to bad people who deserve their circumstances.

One who subscribes to the notion of a just world would believe those homeless folks deserved their situation.

McRaney’s article cited research that examined the characteristics of people with strong beliefs in a just world. Among other conclusions, these folks “tend to be more religious.” Since the study was done in the US, I’ll speculate that most of those identified themselves as Christians.

Does that surprise you?

The bible clearly teaches that this world is broken. Innocent children die. Horrible disease strikes randomly. In fact, the core gospel message, the “good news, is that through faith in Jesus I DON’T get what I deserve. No one who understands the bible could possibly believe this world is fair, right?

But Christians are humans, and generally we aren’t very good at metacognition, or thinking about our own thinking. We don’t understand our own biases and blind spots. Many people claim to believe something when their actual words, actions, and thoughts reveal something entirely different. This is an example.

Does it matter? Here’s another sobering observation from the McRaney’s article.

“Believers in a just world tend to feel less of a need to engage in activities to change society or to alleviate plight of social victims.”

In other words, once we’ve decided people deserve their fate, we don’t feel compelled to help.

As followers of Jesus, how do we view and respond to the homeless folks on that pristine bike trail? I don’t know the answer, but I know we don’t live in a world where good guys win and bad guys lose.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:35-36,40)

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