I could see the pain and terror in his eyes as he lay on the cold slab of concrete. He was curled up tightly in his blanket like a cocoon while large beads of sweat fell from his brow down his whisker-stubbled cheek. His long Arabic nose flared, and his chest violently rose and fell as he gasped for his next breath. I stood awestruck as I watched a helpless and concerned family gather around their stronghold, not expecting him to recover.
Abu Ali was a Syrian Muslim who had packed up his family and fled the chaos and violence that was deconstructing his homeland. I met him in a Syrian Refugee camp in Lebanon where he and his family were being exploited and taken advantage of with slave labor. They found themselves living in a shabby tent construction with nothing but a leaking tarp roof and a hard concrete floor.
Abu Ali had contracted typhoid fever and, having no money to his name, could not afford the twenty-five dollar antibiotics a mile down the road that would save his life. So, I stared at this Syrian Muslim man on the concrete floor, soberly realizing that if I watched his chest rise and fall for the last time and heard him gasp his last breath, his time on earth would expire and the next breath he took would be that of fiery soot that would last for an eternity.
Abu Ali’s story has a happy ending. We quickly jumped into a van and sped a mile down the road where we bought his antibiotics. We administered his medication to him, and he went on to make a full recovery. But there are literally millions upon millions of men, women, and children around the globe who die every year from preventable and treatable diseases and illnesses—many of whom have never even heard the name of Jesus. What about them? What about their families? What about their souls?
The reality is that millions of people around the world who do not know Christ die from illnesses that we treat with over-the-counter medications we bought at one of the five supermarkets near us. What is a mild inconvenience for us is a fatal illness to them. It is an illness that takes their life before they even have the opportunity to hear the gospel. This terrifying and depressing reality leads us to ask the question: Why was I born in a country where illnesses are easily treatable and the gospel is readily available, while they were not?
The Gift of Grace
What is the answer? One option is to claim that God is cruel and unjust, favoring American lives over the lives of others around the world who are not privileged enough to have adequate health care and access to the gospel. The other option is to see that God is gracious and that He gives people like us the grace and mercy to be born in an environment where there is sufficient access to care for our spiritual and physical needs, all for a divine purpose. The right answer is that God is gracious, and our privilege is for a purpose.
Many see the overwhelming need around the world and use it to reject the existence of God, or they deem God unjust and not worthy to be followed. After all, if there really is a God of love who could snap His fingers and fix poverty, famine, slavery, and every other problem in the world, why doesn’t He?
But the problem with this question is that it completely neglects to put the blame of poverty, pain, and hurt where the blame truly lies—with man’s rebellion and the consequences of his sin (Genesis 3). It also falsely assumes that God owes a “good life” to all human beings. With this premise, since all humans don’t have the “good life,” that must mean God is unjust. But this view is not biblical.
Scripture is rather clear that God does not favor the rich (James 2:1–6), and His sharp rebuke of Job (Job 38–41) shows that He owes no one a “good life.” Our abundance is owing to nothing but grace. Those of us who have been born in America (and other affluent nations) where our needs are more than met, must realize that this is a tremendous display of God’s grace and that He was not obligated to give it. As the apostle John says, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
Throughout Scripture we find that many people found favor with God in a way that others did not. Examples include people like Noah (Genesis 6:8), Joseph (Genesis 39:4), Daniel (Daniel 1:9), and Mary (Luke 1:30), to name just a few. God gave particular opportunities to some while withholding them from others. But why?
The Responsibility of Grace
For those of us who have been given grace and who live in places where our every need is met, we have a decision to make. We can thank our lucky stars and live out our lives in comfort and luxury, or we can leverage our wealth and privilege in order to reach those in need. We have that choice, but the consequences of that choice are weighty. As Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).
The grace God gives to those who live in places like America comes with a great responsibility. Christ demands our entire lives. The idea of living out a pain-free life of comfort and luxury is foreign to the New Testament. Jesus told his followers, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).
Because of the grace given, transformed hearts should be willing to go and do whatever God asks them—whenever and wherever. This involves leveraging our privileges for the sake of the hurting and the lost around the world. There is no better example of this than the apostle Paul, who said to the church at Corinth,
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. (1 Corinthians 15:10–11).
God gave me the grace of being born in America to enable me to minister to Abu Ali in Lebanon. What about you? You can try to ignore the misfortune around the world and squander the grace given to you. Or you can leverage that grace for the sake of those who right now have no hope of heaven.