There is something about charity, liberality of the heart, that has always ranked high in the estimation of humanity; perhaps some latent memory of divine generosity at the beginning of the life of this world that impels the human soul to imitate its Maker. However that may be, unfeigned generosity is given an especially high place in faith-religions throughout the world.
In the Hebrew Psalms of David we are taught:
Blessed is he who considers the poor; the Lord delivers him in the day of trouble. (41.1)
And in the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit we read that charity, or almsgiving, leads to eternal life:
Almsgiving is death’s avoiding, is guilt’s atoning, is the winning of mercy and of life eternal… Tobias (Tobit) 12.9 (Knox Bible)
Buddhism teaches us that even the poor should be generous:
A poor man who himself subsists on charity should give charity. (Dhammapada 224)
Generosity is inextricably linked to authentic faith:
Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbor, and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his guest. (Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 15)
One Native American religion goes so far as to threaten death as the result of stinginess:
See to it that whoever enters your house obtains something to eat, however little you may have. Such food will be a source of death to you if you withhold it.
So generosity is a spiritual gem, an invaluable virtue, an admirable quality, and for many thousands of people in the world on the receiving end, life-saving. But does God take care of those who care for others? I would like to believe so – and I’m not asking the question in a sacrilegious manner – but sometimes it seems the most genuinely giving people are left with little or nothing. Perhaps they’ve given too much? This is certainly possible, I suppose, and that would mean they should have been more frugal. But what of the person who has simply, and quite literally, been sincerely generous, and has given out of love more than a sense of duty?
I know a man – call him “Karim,” which actually means “generous” – and he has been very openhanded through the years. Like everyone, of course, Karim is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but no one could ever accuse him of the deadly sin of greed. Who knows how much he’s given in dollar amounts? Is an account kept in heaven? I don’t know, but from what I do know the figure would hit well up into the tens of thousands … no small amount for Karim because he’s never been a wealthy man. But there you go! Maybe he would be wealthy if he hadn’t given away so much!
Karim doesn’t think so. He is a bit of a non-materialistic idealist, who believes that genuine generosity, especially to those in greatest need, is its own reward. Consequently, true wealth comes from giving away what you have been given because, according to this dear soul, it has been given precisely to be given again … and again and again. Life for Karim, in fact, is lived best when it’s lived for others, and life is satisfying only to the extent that it’s given away. Well, he probably hasn’t perfectly lived out this ideal, but he’s been materially and financially generous, for sure, and that must mean something. Does it? Enter now my doubt.
I know for fact that he has given to many people who have, seemingly at least, forgotten poor Karim (and he is poor now). What especially vexes me, however, are those who promised to repay Karim, though he gave what he gave as a gift. But they insisted at the time, and then quite promptly forgot … or did they? Why should it bother me? Well, perhaps it shouldn’t; after all, Karim gave what he gave freely, without thought of repayment. Besides, he himself insists that generosity is its own reward; maybe he is at peace and satisfied. And, too, maybe an infinitely benevolent God will grant mercy and life eternal to Karim as promised in the Wisdom of Sirach.
Here and now, though, Karim seems to have very little, at least materially, and I couldn’t help but feel sad for him this Christmas. He received precious few holiday cards and most of the ones he did receive were from charities to which he’s donated … asking for more money, of course! It’s enough to make you laugh and cry at the same time! (Actually, I’ve done both, but anyway…) Karim just goes on, though, living the days God has given him, holding out for something more and better … some day. Well, maybe he’s right after all; perhaps generosity is it’s own reward. At least I can say Karim doesn’t seem too bruised by the callousness of others; he does seem happy when he’s giving. And that, at any rate, is something to ponder a while.