The charity conundrum

co·nun·drum/kəˈnəndrəm/

Noun:
  1. A confusing and difficult problem or question.
  2. A question asked for amusement, typically one with a pun in its answer; a riddle.
It was dark, not particularly cold, but drizzling with rain as the four of us walked across the   parking lot last night headed for the relative comfort of a fast-food restaurant. Then it happened: “Sir, can you spare some money for gas?” I responded, in truth, that I did not have any cash in my wallet or change in my pocket. I rarely do. Like most middle class Americans I rarely use cash for my regular purchases.
My new friend responded, “could you charge me some gas?” at the gas station across the street. What to do? Frankly, I wanted to say: “Forget it pal. I don’t have any cash and I’m not about to leave my wife with the kids to cross the street in the rain to get you some gas.”
For some reason I relented and walked across the street while he drove. I prepaid for some gas and rejoined my family.
I had just ordered my food when another gentleman (who looked homeless) approached me inquiring what the former gentleman had asked me about. I told him. He responded: “Just so you know, he has an apartment and is a meth addict.”
Okay–something of a conundrum here. I was beginning to have my doubts about my first friend when he pushed me to throw in a couple of extra bucks for “me and my lady.” Uh, I was thinking, this gas *is* for you and your lady!
So what do you do when confronted with an opportunity to give to someone who claims to be in need? I don’t have any great answers to this because it is something of a riddle–you’re rarely in a position to have enough information to make a wise decision about the merits of the person’s claim.
In the end the issue may not really be the merits of the person’s claim. The issue may just be the disposition of our hearts.
  • Am I willing to acknowledge the humanity and the dignity (yes, the dignity even present in asking for help) of another?
  • Am I willing to help?
  • Am I willing to give an honest answer about why I won’t or can’t help?
  • Am I willing to help in ways other than that requested by the asker?
I have to believe that God’s providence is at work in encounters like this. God may be using experiences like the one above to bring me into contact with places in my own heart that I don’t often explore. He may be using my gift to an undeserving person as an illustration of His own supreme generosity to me in Christ.
It’s a conundrum, right? And conundrums often have to be approached by faith.