Beyond Symptoms – The 4 Relationships

Others, Poverty , Relationships , Theology

Contributed by: Food for the Hungry Canada

Photo by Delaney Turner on Unsplash

What’s the difference between a symptom and a cause? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

I used to have headaches all the time. I went to the doctor to find out what was going on and she told me I was suffering from migraines.

While I was relieved to have a diagnosis, I was also apprehensive. How was I going to get rid of them? Would I need to load up with extra strength this and that? I already knew the regular stuff wasn’t working and I couldn’t handle the pain anymore.

If my doctor had written a prescription for Axert and sent me on my way, you can be sure I would’ve gone to the pharmacist immediately, gotten my prescription filled, and been back every few weeks like clockwork to have it topped up.

The medication would have gotten my pain under control and let me get back to normal life functioning – no more missing work, missing parties, or lying in a dark room all day. But I also would have become entirely dependent on a pharmaceutical drug. And in reality, I would still get migraines…I just wouldn’t feel the effects.

Thankfully, my doctor didn’t write me a prescription. Instead, she interviewed me about “triggers”. By asking questions about the circumstances in which I most often developed migraines, she was able to help me discover what sorts of things caused the debilitating pain. I scribbled down a list and began making changes to my life to prevent migraines before they even start. As a result, I now eat protein early in the morning, drink less coffee and more water, get more sleep, and talk to a counsellor when I’m overwhelmed with stress. Voila! Hello, healthy me.

In her wisdom, the doctor treated my migraine as a symptom and not a cause of the pain I experienced. She looked past the migraine and helped me root out what the problems in my life were that needed to be addressed so I could live a healthier, happier life—pain and drug-free.

Defining an issue as a symptom or a cause makes all the difference in how you treat it.

At Ending Poverty Together, we define poverty as a symptom and look for solutions to the root causes, not to the presenting poverty itself.

We see poverty symptoms emerging where any of these four key relationships are broken:
1. an individual with God,
2. an individual with themselves,
3. an individual with others,
4. and an individual with creation.

This framework arises from our Christian convictions. We believe God created a good and harmonious world but that human rebellion brought brokenness and evil into it. This affected everything and everyone on the deepest level. It triggered an endless cycle of poverty in our world.

As a result, we see people worshiping destructive forces like consumerism, wealth, popularity, and political power. We see people suffering from depression, anxiety, purposelessness, and addiction. We see divorce, homelessness, lawsuits, road rage, violence, bullying, and war. We see pollution, warming oceans, melting ice caps, disappearing species, food shortages, droughts, and floods.

I think we can all agree, these symptoms are terrible! And they need to be addressed at their roots, healed from the ground up.

Our broken relationships are in desperate need of reconciliation.

Here’s the good news: through Jesus, God has already provided healing for our world. As people are reconciled to God, Self, Others, and Creation the bonds of poverty are shattered and human flourishing replaces all forms of scarcity.

Each of these relationships is complex and we cringe at the risk of oversimplifying them. But if we are going to begin the reconciling process, we have to start our definitions somewhere. In brief, these are the four foundational relationships intrinsic to each person’s experience as a broken human on this good earth.

This is our deepest poverty—a broken relationship with God. God created the world and called it good. He created people in his image, breathed his Spirit into us, and called us good. He is our first and deepest relationship. But the Bible tells us that we chose independence over relationship, and through our disobedience, we brought brokenness and pain into the world. But reconciliation with God is possible. Through Jesus, we can overcome spiritual poverty.

Every person is created in the image of God with inherent dignity and worth. This powerful identity enables us to live with a healthy self-image and sense of purpose. When our view of ourselves gets broken, we live out of a distorted sense of identity. We experience anxiety, fear, aimlessness. But reconciliation with ourselves is possible. Through Jesus, we can overcome personal poverty and live from our God-given identity.

God created people as social beings. It’s how we were wired from the beginning. He designed us to be in relationships that are good, harmonious, and just. Today, our world is filled with conflict–with family members, neighbours, co-workers, and strangers. Competition and suspicion now mark our social interactions. But reconciliation with others is possible. Through Jesus, we can overcome relational poverty to restore trust, peace, and justice.

God designed people to be caretakers of the earth, creating a special relationship between us and the world we live in. We’re intimately connected to, reliant on, and responsible for the earth. Yet we’ve come to view creation as consumers rather than caretakers. But reconciliation with creation is possible. Through Jesus, we can overcome physical poverty and renew our commitment to our first vocation.

This is the framework through which we assess the symptoms of poverty and begin working to address the root causes through reconciliation.

As we come together around this framework to seek healing for ourselves and others, let’s be encouraged! We’ve identified the symptoms. We’ve identified the root causes. And we know that God has already provided the solutions.

Let’s work together with joy to bring reconciliation to every corner of the earth and end all forms of poverty, for good.