Give, and it shall be given unto you

It is love which will produce a prudent and workable economy, writes Richard Dawson.

''Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.''

This saying, sometimes attributed to the Chinese, but more likely to have been written by English woman Anne Isabella Ritchie, the daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, makes great economic sense, until you realise that charity of every kind lies behind supporting not just those who cannot fish, but also those who are learning to fish, as well.

Both the giving of a fish and the teaching how to fish are acts of charity and both are necessary since, to be fair, while one is learning how to fish one apparently still must eat! We are all the products of charity. All of life involves and depends on charity of some sort, from those who cared for us as infants and children to our teachers and leaders and, indeed, anyone who willingly served us in some way.

It is a futile piece of self-deception to imagine that any of us are truly ''self-made''. Only those who are completely blind to the opportunities afforded most people in the West could possibly imagine that we who live here have what we have apart from multiple and ongoing acts of charity.

Everyone needs charity - perhaps not of the economic kind, but certainly of the gracious kind. Forgiveness is essentially charity - the free offering to forget an offence of some kind. Listening can be a charity - the free offering of time spent hearing another. Caring is a charity we all need when we're young and quite occasionally when we're old!

This is why Christians emphasise that ''God is love'' - meaning that God's primary characteristic is that of gracious forgiveness and charity, and not accusation. For the Church, charity isn't a stop-gap measure. Rather, it is the context in which all things work and, indeed, thrive in this world.

When we look at the world around us, we can see this to be true. So teaching a person to fish is fine, but let's not imagine that we can do this without charity or that this takes place in a charity-neutral world.

This is one of the reasons I've become rather suspicious of our growing tendency to measure everything by virtue of its so-called economic benefit. Not that it isn't important to have a good economy or even a growing economy, but such measures prove to be incredibly limited.

Give me a charitable society over an economically efficient one any day.

Give me a society which puts charity first and in which the dignity of work is valued at least as much as the value of work.

The God I know and serve is a wasteful God. I know this may surprise you, but this is most certainly a valid biblical assumption. The greatest testament to this is the life, death and resurrection of God's son Jesus. If ever there was a race lost in its own foolishness and not worth saving, it was and is humankind. Our self-destructiveness, not to mention the destruction of our environment, bears stark testimony to this.

God's answer, however, is not to bring in the economists or accountants, as valuable as these professions are, but to come in person to give His life as a lasting example of the true nature of love and life. Incredibly wasteful? - apparently so. But the fruit of that investment continues to bear fruit in the lives of billions of individuals around the globe.

Teaching people to fish is an act of love before it is an act of economic sense. It is love which will produce a prudent and workable economy.

- The Rev Richard Dawson is the minister at St Stephen's, Leith Valley.

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