(A Modern Indulgence)
Making donations in lieu of remembrances at weddings, funerals, christenings, birthdays, and even Christmas has been catching on. When it’s a prearranged convention within the social circle or family, especially in a really wealthy family/set that can get anything they want for themselves anytime, this can be a reasonable, even a good thing to do, but I’ve been seeing references online to other situations.
A young, relatively poor bride griped online that some of her better off relations donated in the one or both of the couple’s names rather than help them setting up their new household, and expected to be treated very well for it at the reception. She found this infuriating, but didn’t know how to say so graciously.
Similar non-voluntary donations occur almost daily. A mother got a card saying a donation was made in her name in lieu of a bouquet of flowers (or any other remembrance.) No home-cooked meals. No visits. No handmade gifts. Just that card. She tried to sound happier about it online than she obviously felt. I wonder how long she cried…
Someone ‘randomly’ donated to a Christian mission in a relative’s name. Notice came from the ministry itself, trying to thank the only benefactor they had on record. Because there was no notice, no card that said someone was doing this, the poor lady was very concerned that her bank account had been attacked in some way. Thankfully, this seemed not to be the case, but it was thoughtless indeed not to have sent some communication explaining the donation in her name. It made the ministry look like scam artists to her family, until it was finally remembered that this was a ministry that she had supported in better years. That alone can have serious repercussions for a ministry!
Perhaps the person was thinking of this verse:
‘When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing - so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt 6:3-4 NIV)
I would say to them that while it’s good to give anonymously, it’s not good to impersonate someone else in the process. If the 'giver' doesn't even know what’s going on, they have reason to be concerned! Some causes say a lot to others about the values the giver supports. Unfortunately, many missions/foundations don't look too hard at the purported identity of the giver (as long as the check clears.) The potential for abuse is obvious. In this case, the choice was fine, but the method was not. If this was to make up for something some soul did or should have done, it backfired, since the 'secret giver' sinned against her again by worrying her unnecessarily. It still didn't mend past matters between her, the 'generous' Impersonator, and God. Remember:
"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Matthew 5:23-24 ESV
Or maybe somebody just thought it would be funny...
I have actually seen people say that they think it is clever to fulfill a social obligation by donating in someone’s name, especially when they don’t really like the person. I could see that if you are being manipulated by societal expectations (rather than by personal/familial connections) into giving to a much wealthier person that this could satisfy requirements, especially if the usual gift would definitely be encouraging them in sin. Often, however, its just a way to maintain appearances while indulging your spiteful side. There's nothing really loving about making a display of charity to strangers in lieu of caring for your friends and family.
People pretty much know they aren't being loving when they 'use' donations this way. A grouchy relation threatened on the ‘net (where I happened to read it) that they were going to give some little kids’ Christmas money to a charity because this person was angry with the parents. Again - he was indulging his anger, saving face with his family/social set, but certainly not trying to love his relatives with this decision. Its one thing to be too broke. Its another to be lashing out while pretending you aren't.
Other people have threatened to donate resources seriously needed by blood kin, stating plainly that they felt this would be more ‘blessed.’ (Usually this is accompanied by a lot of judgmental garbage.) Certainly it’s been easier to get a tax reduction or public praise for such an action, but the Bible plainly speaks to this particular type of 'donation.'
3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’a and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’b 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
This scene was also reported in Mark 7: 9-13
I believe Jesus Christ was saying here that claiming that you gave "to God" does not remove your obligations to anyone in your family, your kids as well as your parents. I don't believe that the Bible supports 'donating to God' or 'the good of mankind' as an acceptable substitute for any who have real claims on us.9And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observec your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’d and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’e 11But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— 12 then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. 13Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Mark 7: 9-13 NIV [my thanks to biblehub.com]
But if any provideth not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.1 Timothy 5: 8 Webster
Who are your 'own?' Your household, certainly, but this could also apply to fellow believers you know or have known. You are (allegedly) one in Christ Jesus. You can say you are donating to other believers generally when you pick a foreign mission field, but if this is in lieu of helping someone God pointed out to you in your extended clan, church, bible study, or community anywhere, you are in grave danger of crossing His revealed will. We cannot reach ALL our brothers and sisters on Earth, but we should certainly consider encouraging those God has made neighbors to us.
But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." Matthew 12:48-50
Some people even donate as a sort of penance to some other person, figuring to clear the sin debt before God this way. Now this can be a reasonable choice if the person/people they wronged are no longer available, as a tangible act demonstrating penance/contrition. However, if the injured brothers/sisters ARE available, and this is INSTEAD of apologizing or otherwise trying to mend the breach, God’s not necessarily going to be good with that.
If this is where you are, and you think I am being unreasonable, may I ask you to reread Luke 10: 30-37. Imagine that YOU are the guy on the side of the road, bloodied and wounded. Would it make it all better if those who ignored your pain dropped a few extra coins in the poor box in your name? How about the robbers who hurt you? Can they just donate some good stuff to a cause they like and send you a postcard?
You mean that's not the same thing as being a good neighbor to you?
Officially, using indulgences to ignore sins was never okay. Even indulgences back in those 'dark' days were supposed to be available only after the sinner had repented, confessed, and done some kind of penance. Indulgences could not officially be granted where there was no contrition, except when bought for those already dead (according to some.) This wasn't Biblical either, and was not a correct interpretation of what an indulgence was supposed to do. Eventually the Catholic Church made the appearance of this practice stop too, because then you had sinners cheerfully planning to pay for their mistresses, swindled relations, and brutal beatings of the serfs by arranging for indulgences to be bought as soon as they'd croaked. This kind of thing was what set off Luther's Ninety-Five Theses.
"the Theses rejected the validity of indulgences (remissions of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven). They also view with great cynicism the practice of indulgences being sold, and thus the penance for sin representing a financial transaction rather than genuine contrition. Luther's Theses argued that the sale of indulgences was a gross violation of the original intention of confession and penance, and that Christians were being falsely told that they could find absolution through the purchase of indulgences." Wikipedia "The Ninety-Five Theses."
I find it amazing that the whole Reformation was largely kicked off by the issue of people trying to spend money to save themselves - rather than really repent and treat their kin and neighbors well - and here we are, centuries later, with a slightly sublimated version that seems to be more popular daily. We are supposed to be providing for those we recognize as our own as best we can - first in our blood families, then in our faith families/friends, the poor nearby ('among us,') then to all rest of mankind.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20 ESV
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Mathew 23:23 ESV