The Unemployed Employee

Unemployment is the antithesis of the work ethic we prize. Is it permissible to collect unemployment compensation? What should our attitude be to the welfare system as it now exists? The following thought provoking, article should help us to put these questions into perspective.

Financial reversal can occur in the life of the believer, as well as the unbeliever, through no fault of his own. The economic uncertainty of the 90’s has affected most to some degree. Many have seen jobs disappear or have felt the distress of the “pink slip.” With others, there may be a particular crisis such as a work related injury, illness with long term disability or motor vehicle accident with disabling personal injury. Enormous pressures arise when the expenses continue and the resources are exhausted. Insolvency seems sure to follow.

Such trials are accepted as the will of God, but when relief does not seem to come, the believer feels obliged to turn to some of the “safety nets” provided by society or government. Yet his conscience questions whether this would be in keeping with his confessed dependency upon God. Very few assemblies would be able to meet such needs on a long term basis. What then should be our attitude to these welfare” provisions in times of need?

When Cain was confronted by God about Abel’s whereabouts, he said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The answer he received established social accountability from the beginning of history. The welfare of his fellow became man’s responsibility.

Centuries later, God reaffirmed this principle when, in the social laws of Israel, He entrenched man’s obligation to the poor and the handicapped. God’s own character thus was reflected in these statutes. Notice how often He declares Himself the guardian of the widow and fatherless.

The Psalms and Proverbs both admonish and commend giving to the poor. Later, in the prophets’ ministry to Israel, the leaders were concerned for neglecting the poor.

In the life of the Lord Jesus, such compassion was demonstrated to perfection. Peter summarized such a life when he wrote, “He went about doing good, healing all that were oppressed, for God was with Him.”

Such “welfare” was part of the life and testimony of the community of Christians in the various assemblies as we survey the Acts and Epistles. There were hard times for the widow, the poor and the indisposed. Saints were ostracized from jobs and society, with loss of material possessions at the hands of unsympathetic rulers. Even famine conditions occurred. In all of these, believers were enjoined to provide material and physical relief for others.

I think the reader will agree from this brief review of Old and New Testament times that this welfare principle is the obligatory norm for society and has the sanction of God. In no way would the forgoing negate the reciprocal truth that man is to work to provide for his own and to have that which may help those in need.

The legislation and institutions of governments, particularly in Western society, have incorporated many of these principles. This was undoubtedly through the influence of Christian ethics upon the founding fathers. The so called “Welfare System” does not come from the philosophy of Marx or Lenin, but from man’s conscience being touched by God to provide for his fellow man in times of need.

Therefore, if such times of need and crisis come upon a child of God, he may use these avenues of support with a clear conscience, with his testimony intact, and most of all, with thankfulness to God who ultimately is the provider.

There are some additional considerations for one who finds it necessary to turn to these avenues of help. First, whether assistance comes from a social agency, unemployment insurance benefits, or auto insurance, it comes out of a contingency fund paid by taxes or premiums of one kind or another. The believer, by his appropriate payments in times of prosperity, has contributed his portion so as to provide for these times of financial reversal. A Christian may question whether it is becoming to consult an attorney or lawyer for help in these matters. Because of abuses of the system, many of these agencies act with an adversarial spirit. Therefore, one may require legal advice to present his case and claim in order to receive the benefits to which he is entitled. To retain the services of such professionals is not a matter of Christian testimony, but the use of expertise in a realm where the lay person is unfamiliar.

Thirdly, short of permanent disability, dependence upon the system is usually temporary. It is help until suitable employment is found, or until health has been returned sufficiently to return to work. It is not a way of life.

In all these sensitive and practical matters, the saint will maintain his testimony by honest representation of the facts of his case. I have frequently encountered patients seeking advantage in work related injuries to secure a large compensation or long holiday. Thankfully, I have never found this true in a Christian.

Furthermore, it is unbecoming for a Christian to seek financial advantage from a mishap or accident. We live in a litigious society where lawyers retained on percentage will sue for settlements far beyond what is equitable and just. Such financial gain would test the Christian’s integrity and motive.

Finally, 1 Cor 7:31 might bean appropriate principle to guide us in these very personal matters: “They that use this world, as not abusing it.” In all our dealings with the world, we must so act as to be able to tell those with whom we have business dealings, of the Lord Jesus who has saved us and is the standard of our life.

(Some Scriptures referred to are: Gen 4:9; Deut 24:11-22; Psalm 10:14; Prov 19:17; Isa 3:13-15; Acts 2:45; 10:38; Eph 4:28.)