September 8th, 2006

Beggars

beggar

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? (Mosiah 4:19)

Working in Salt Lake City, I frequently pass beggars on the street. They attempt to stop you as you walk by, hoping you will give them some money. They sometimes try to explain why the need the money, some reasons usually being bus fare or some lunch. A few are even frank enough to admit they want money to buy some cigarettes or booze.

One cannot walk two blocks downtown without being approached by a beggar. I see four possible responses to this encounter:

  1. Be honest. If you have some cash, give them some of it. If you don’t, tell them so and walk on.
  2. Don’t be honest. If you have some cash, lie and tell them you don’t.
  3. Ignore them completely, perhaps going so far as to shake your head, or simply say “no”.
  4. Go out of your way to approach the beggar on your own, and give them some money without their having to ask.

1. Be honest. If you have some cash, give them some of it. If you don’t, tell them so and walk on.

There is a potential flaw in this method. If you give the beggar some of your money each time you are approached, you will soon go broke. Walking to a restaurant, I might come across four or five beggars. If I give each of them a dollar, I’ve just spent my lunch money. If I do this each time I walk downtown and encounter a beggar, I will spend all my money. Surely this is not a viable option, or is it?

2. Don’t be honest. If you have some cash, lie and tell them you don’t.

Since liars are thrust down to hell, this probably isn’t the best idea. Most people probably consider this a “white lie” (and therefore justifiable in their eyes), such as when a single woman tells a creepy guy who is hitting on her that she has a boyfriend. Under this method, the approached person would lie to each beggar, and go on their merry way, cash in pocket.

3. Ignore them completely, perhaps going so far as to shake your head, or simply say “no”.

This method promotes the division of society into classes, treating the beggar as a lesser person by ignoring their existence. They are looked down upon, seen as a bothersome individual who is up to no good.

4. Go out of your way to approach the beggar on your own, and give them some money without their having to ask.

This model of proactivity uses charity as a tool to bless the life of another, by voluntary action rather than responding to a request. The beggar is not put through the humbling experience of asking for a pittance; instead he experiences the goodness of the giver’s soul.

All these being said, many people are hesitant to give money to beggars due to the popular concern that the offered money will be used for the purchase of alcohol or drugs, thus wasting what it was originally intended for. In response to this, President Brigham Young said:

Suppose that in this community there are ten beggars who beg from door to door for something to eat, and that nine of them are impostors who beg to escape work, and with an evil heart practise imposition upon the generous and sympathetic, and that only one of the ten who visit your doors is worthy of your bounty; which is best, to give food to the ten, to make sure of helping the truly needy one, or to repulse the ten because you do not know which is the worthy one? You will all say, Administer charitable gifts to the ten, rather than turn away the only truly worthy and truly needy person among them. If you do this, it will make no difference in your blessings, whether you administer to worthy or unworthy persons, inasmuch as you give alms with a single eye to assist the truly needy.

According to this principle, we are to understand that it matters not what the money is used for. We are to give of our substance, regardless. Indeed, it is a commandment to do so:

Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The eharvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved! (D&C 56:16)

He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes [option #3 in this post] shall have many a curse. (Proverbs 28:27)

Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. (Matthew 5:42)

And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4:26)

In summary: we should give of our substance when asked. We should not hold back, being skeptical as to what the money will be used for; we will be blessed regardless.

So often we think we are doing well in life. We’re going to church, paying our tithing, reading our scriptures, saying our prayers, etc. Of us and our situation, Amulek said:

And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and vaileth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. (Alma 34:28)

I invite you to prayerfully ponder this subject, and remember these things next time a beggar approaches you. I will try to as well.

7 Responses to “Beggars”

  1. steven
    September 8, 2006 at 2:38 pm #

    Well written Connor. You have provided much food for thought.

  2. Russell Page
    September 8, 2006 at 3:37 pm #

    Where does the idea fit that something for nothing can actually be detrimental to a person’s desire to be an agent and steward over their life?

  3. Connor
    September 8, 2006 at 3:46 pm #

    Russell,

    Excellent question. I think that to one degree or another, we all fit (or have fitted) in that category. As King Benjamin says, we are all beggars. We all need each other’s help in our quest to “be an agent and steward” over our lives.

    Perhaps a beggar is saving to buy a bike, so that they can find a job? Perhaps they are trying to pay for medicine, so that they can become healthy and then find employment? As K.D. comments (on this same post I put on Blogger of Jared), we are not to judge. We are to openly give to those who ask, just as we frequently ask the Father for things, and he gives.

    One would hope that the beggar (be it them or us) wisely use that which is given, investing and developing their talent in order to become a wise steward. But as Brother Brigham pointed out, it is not up to us to try to ascertain who is being a wise steward, and who is not. Judgment is up to the Lord, and the blessing will be ours as long as we give. It is a commandment that we must fulfill.

    I am happy to report that on my way to lunch today, I saw a beggar outside the restaurant I was heading towards. He did not see me as I voluntarily walked up to him (trying to act according to #4 in this post) and gave him some money. The astonished look on his face made my day. It feels good to give.

    The humorous thing was when I walked out five minutes later. The individual approached me for some money. Confused, I told him that I had just given him some. He thought for a couple seconds, and finally realized that I was correct. Guess his mind was a bit clouded at the time… :)

  4. the narrator
    September 8, 2006 at 3:53 pm #

    Oh my goodness. I agree with you again. This is an idea I try to advocate all the time in church (pretty much every Sunday), and get the usual responses.

    I love to try to sit down and talk with people seeking needs. A few times I’ve had the opportunity to sit down at a Subway or McDonalds with them, and learn about their lives over a meal.

    Perhaps you aren’t as evil as I thought you were ;)

  5. steven
    September 8, 2006 at 5:10 pm #

    I dont think you are evil either Connor. Does that mean I am agreeing with “the narrator?” Is that a scarey thought or what? Reasonable people are allowed to disagree and AGREE. Did I just call “the narrator” reasonable?

  6. Dustin Davis
    September 10, 2006 at 10:31 am #

    There is another reason not to give – it is not in the budget ;) But this can also easily corrected by putting it in the budget. Each month we budget a certain amount for “blow money.” It’s a small amount to be spent on whatever. I supposed this could be used for giving. Just as we budget for everything else, I suppose we could budget some cash for charity. It would be an interesting experiment to see if we use that bugeted amount each month and how it affects our finances.

    Beggars are not always the homeless. A couple years ago my wife and I planned a trip to Denver to watch the Braves play the Rockies. Before leaving I stopped at the grocery store and felt prompted to get some cash when checking out, which I normally never do. On the way there we stopped in Cheyanne to get some gas and stop at a rest stop. At the rest stop we walked around a bit with our 9 month old just to take a break and stretch our legs. While we were walking around I kept noticing a young couple sitting in their car looking very distraught. Just as we were about to leave, the young man behind the wheel got out and approached us. He explained that he had driven to a certain city for a job interview and during the experience a maid in their hotel had stolen all the money in his wallet. He asked if we could spare $10 for some gas money so they could finish their trip home. Was he telling the truth? Who cares? I was prompted to give him the $20 I got at the checkout before we left earlier that day. Of course it felt good.

    Something interesting happened after that. As we got in our car I noticed that one of our back tires was getting flat. I had just check all our tires at the gas station ten minutes ago. To make a long story shorter we had to buy two new tires as the back two where quite bald.

    There’s two ways to look at this I guess. 1. Wow what a sacrafice, we give $20 and then have to spend more for new tires! or, 2. We gave charitibly and the Lord then prompted me to check our tires (which obviously I also never do, or we wouldn’t have started the trip with bald tires in the first place). I feel we were protected from something that could have been terribly worse had we not been prompted to check our tires when we did.

  7. the narrator
    September 10, 2006 at 10:57 am #

    There’s two ways to look at this I guess.

    There’s a third way as well: 3. We gave charitibly.

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