Chasms are scary if you have a fear of heights. I can barely look over the balcony railing from my fourth floor apartment, much less stand on one side of a mountain looking down.
There are physical chasms that separate the surface of the earth. And there are figurative chasms that divide human beings in terms of our opinions, our core beliefs, and our life experiences.
And there is a single time when the word “chasm” is used in the Bible. (χάσμα pronounced “chasma“) It’s here in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.
There was a chasm between them in both life and death. In life, the rich man led a comfortable existence with fine foods and elegant clothing and the poor man (Lazarus) was starving and covered in sores. In death, the rich man found himself tortured in Hades and the poor man (Lazarus) was comforted at the side of Abraham. And between them – at least in death – was a great, fixed chasm.
It didn’t have to be this way. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
I’m not an economist, but I have concerns about the increasingly treacherous financial chasms between the rich and poor in the world God created. This is not what God intended.
For 16 years, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream ran their company with this policy: the pay ratio between the highest salaried executive and lowest-earning-worker would be no greater than 5 to 1.
Yes, that was a long time ago but their corporate values were laudable and – if you ask me – holy. Today, the pay ratios between the highest paid executives and their lowest paid workers in the same companies are depressing – and if you ask me – sinful.
(These are pre-pandemic numbers, published in early 2020 according to Bloomberg.) The pay ratio between the highest paid executives and the lowest paid executives are:
- Costco – 169 to 1
- Apple – 201 to 1
- General Motors – 203 to 1
- Bank of America – 276 to 1
- Merck – 289 to 1
- Walmart – 1076 to 1
- Chipotle – 1136 to 1
- McDonald’s – 1939 to 1
- The Gap – 3566 to 1
You can look up your own favorite companies on that Bloomberg link. And this would be a good time to check the pay ratio on your church staff. Is it fair? Would you call it just?
The divide between rich and poor is increasing and this is bad for our country and our souls. We have come to believe that people are poor because they’ve done something wrong when actually our structures are set up against the poor in ways that keep them poor. From housing opportunities to educational opportunities to job opportunities, the chasm between rich and poor is not what God planned.
The chasm between rich and poor in this life is not fixed. We can still cross that chasm if only we will.
Let’s reread the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man and ask ourselves this:
- Do we notice the poor person at our gates?
- Do we tend to the health concerns of the poor?
- Do we ensure that the poor have food security?
- Do we know the names of the poor who live on our streets?
I’ve asked this before and I’ll ask this again: What is the first and last name of the poorest person you know? It’s a real question. What’s your answer?
Are we going to die perpetuating that chasm between rich and poor? Or are we going to notice and then lift up those who are hungry and sick in our communities? Again – the chasm is not a fixed one. For now.
Image of The Grand Canyon overlooking the Colorado River.
We are going to have a lot to answer for when we see Jesus.
This is an excellent and appropriately challenging article, Jan. One concern I have is how we move from either “denial” or “paralyzing guilt.” For an example of how to do that, check out my booklet “Racism–God’s Invitation.”
It is now available on Kindle or contact me and I will send you a free pdf.
Thanks Steve. Love to your family.