Keep in mind as you read the sentence that follows that I get paid to travel around the world teaching Christian ministries how to raise money:
When it comes to ransoming the captive, money is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
A particular conceit among those of us in the top one percent of the world’s wealthiest people–by the way, that’s anyone making roughly US $38,500 or more a year–is that we are absolutely convinced that our wealth puts us in a particularly advantageous and responsible position to solve the world’s problems. “We have so much,” we sigh. “We really should do more to, you know, help those who don’t have anything.”
There’s certainly some truth to that, of course, but as Jesus points out to the rich young ruler, our usefulness to God typically comes after we divest ourselves of our wealth, not during the process of our divestment. “Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and then come and follow me,” he says, not “Come and follow me by selling all you have and giving it to the poor. You have so much, and I really need you to help those who, you know, my Father and I failed to provide for in the first place.”
I still recall when I started working with North Korean Christians. I asked them, “How can we pray for you?” And they said, “You pray for us? We pray for you!” “Why would you pray for me?” I asked, incredulously. I’m the rich and free guy here, I wanted to say. You’re the poor folks in bondage. And as if they read my mind, they replied, “Because you Americans and Koreans put so much faith in your wealth and freedom to solve problems. But until you have neither wealth nor freedom, you don’t know what it’s like to depend fully on God and to discover that he is able.”
Spiritual problems require spiritual wealth to effect a solution. Not just a spiritual solution but a whole life solution, for body, soul, and spirit. Because captivity is a whole life problem, not just a body issue.
Given that human beings are bereft of spiritual wealth, there is only one source for it–the very source that is typically dismissed as only an inspiration, an accountability factor, or a benevolent but distant being in the day-to-day grind of ransoming the captive.
Think about it: Given what we know about God, it would be peculiar indeed if he set up the world in such a way that it relied on the money of the rich to solve its problems. It would be peculiar indeed if he set up the world in such a way that rich people were somehow in a better or more important or more influential position to accomplish his purposes than poor people. Not quite what we, you know, see in the Scriptures.
And so as we consider the Work of Mercy of ransoming the captive, it’s important to remind ourselves that if ransoming the captive requires you to have a lot of money to do it right, then it is a Work that is restricted to the rich, and that would mean that this means of grace–this way of coming to know God more deeply and fully–is not available to the poor.
Since we know that can’t be the case, that’s our major clue that ransoming the captive can’t be about buying people out of prison or brothels. It must be about something else.
And indeed it is. As Scripture makes clear from end to end, the only currency that’s accepted where sin and death are involved is divine life. Captivity by definition involves sin and death. As such, divine life must be at the center of any serious effort to ransom the captive. The old saying “You can’t take it with you” has a corollary: You can’t buy people’s freedom with it either. As Moses’ life attests, when you take the work of ransoming captives into your own hands and out of God’s, people end up dead and you end up in the desert. Forty year sentence, baby.
So when we are seeking to effect the release of 13 year old Nan from the brothel, the length, breadth, and depth of the Work of Mercy of ransoming the captive must entail the application of divine life. It can’t be centered on the $80 ransom the pimp is requiring (and the nonprofit is asking you to contribute). It can’t even be about praying that God will move the heart of the pimp to accept our $80. The only force capable of setting captives free is the Cross of Christ.
How to apply that in the context of 13 year old Nan held captive in the brothel? Hang on for our next post.