When Helping Hurts, Chapter 2 – “What’s the Problem?”


Chapter 2 examines what poverty is. Poverty is more than simply not having enough stuff. According to  Fikkert and Corbett (F&C), there are four different kinds of poverty. They are:

  1. Poverty of Spiritual Intimacy – corresponds to a poor relationship with God. We were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever. When we are not enjoying God, we have poverty of spiritual intimacy.
  2. Poverty of Being – corresponds to a poor understanding of self. We are made in the image of God with worth and dignity.
  3. Poverty of Community – corresponds to a poor relationship between ourselves and others. Being created in the image of the triune God, we were created to be in community.
  4. Poverty of Stewardship – corresponds to a poor relationship between ourselves and the rest of creation. “God created us to be stewards, people who understand, protect, subdue, and manage the world that God has created in order to preserve it and to produce bounty.” We have poverty of stewardship when we don’t take care of what we’ve been given.

C&B make the case of Christ’s supremacy in all things by quoting Colossians 1:16-17, “For by him [Jesus] all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.” All things were created by him and for him, and he holds all things together. Therefore, there is not a single facet of our lives that is outside Christ’s rule. In the fall, the relationships with God, others, and creation, were distorted by sin.

Adam and Eve went from having a good relationship with God, themselves, one another, and creation, to hiding from God in shame, pointing fingers of blame at one another, and laboring with great difficulty. If we ignore the supremacy of Christ in all things, and simply treat poverty as a state of being without stuff we will never make progress in eliminating poverty. Therefore, we must take a comprehensive approach to address poverty.

My Thoughts

C&B provide some excellent examples of poverty alleviation efforts gone wrong. I remember dealing with a returning citizen whom I met almost immediately after he got out of prison. He mentioned he only had one pair of underwear and no toilet paper. So, I took him to the store and bought him underwear and toilet paper. Later, he called and asked if he could have $20. He just needed some money to get through the week. When I drove over to his house, he was sitting outside smoking a cigarette. I thought, “Those things are $5/pack. Am I just buying him some cigarettes?” He called me a couple more times. Over the course of a month, I gave him over $100. He called me again. I couldn’t believe it. No matter how much I helped him nothing changed.  I told him, “I don’t think I’m doing you any good by giving you money.”

He said, “Of course you’re doing me good. I didn’t have any toilet paper, and now I do. I didn’t have any food, and now I’m full. You’re helping a lot!” Yet, his situation didn’t change because of the money I gave him. Even worse, maybe one of the reasons his circumstances didn’t change is because I gave him money. He still had to beg for everything he had. He still didn’t have a job. He still wasn’t looking for one! Was I subsidizing an unhealthy lifestyle? Was I exacerbating his poverty of stewardship? My efforts didn’t do anything to alleviate his poverties (spiritual, being, community, or stewardship) and may have made his life worse.

Of course, he’s one of the reasons I wanted to read this book. I want to help, rather than enable or encourage greater poverty. Looking forward to some answers in the coming chapters!



  1. It seems we all like to live up to someones expectations of us i.e. to give them the help they think they need. I’m reminded that Jesus often had similar problems with people who asked for his help. “Your sins are forgiven” being just one encounter. How do we learn to address the “real” need, not just the perceived need as expressed by the individual in need?


    1. Very good question Glen! People don’t always know what’s best for them. They might not even know where the problems lie. I think the answer (which is partially presented in chapter 3) is that we work in relationship. Through relationship, we come to understand the problems better while gaining the trust of those we are trying to help. We’ve seen the power of relationship at Celebration Fellowship. The solution is an act of mutual participation that doesn’t boil down to an “us and them” relationship. Instead, the solution is a comes from “both of us.”


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