What is our role when a general emergency arises?

“What is our role when a general emergency arises?” Ensign, Apr. 1993, 53–54

What is our role when a general emergency arises and our family has already prepared and planned adequately, while others have not?

John H. Cox, president, Georgia Macon Mission. To answer this question, let’s review the fundamental gospel principles upon which relief is extended to the needy.

The Lord counsels us to first provide for self: “For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings.” (D&C 104:13.) He counsels us to next provide for family: wives have claim on their husbands for support (see D&C 83:2), young children on their parents (see D&C 83:4; Mosiah 4:14), and elderly parents on their children (see Mark 7:10–13). Through modern prophets, the Lord has also clarified that relatives need to help care for distressed kin.

When everything possible has been done by the individual and the family to provide for temporal needs, the Lord will provide through the larger family of the Church: “And after that, they have claim upon the church, or in other words upon the Lord’s storehouse.” (D&C 83:5.)

But how much should we give to another? Under the Mosaic law, a “freewill offering of thine hand” was to be generous, “according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee.” (Deut. 16:10; see also Mosiah 4:26.) Speaking to this generation, the Lord says that we should impart to the poor and needy “the abundance which [he has] made,” and he reassures us that “the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare.” (D&C 104:17–18.) When we give freely as we are able, the Lord will bless us. (See Luke 6:38; see also Mark 10:21.)

The spirit with which we give is most important. We are to give and not count the cost. “Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto.

“For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” (Deut. 15:10–11.)

The Lord expects us to be liberal in determining who should receive our help. We are to “administer of [our] substance unto him that standeth in need; and … not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to [us] in vain, and turn him out to perish.

“Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

“But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; …

“For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?” (Mosiah 4:16–19.)

We are not to judge who is worthy of our gift and who is not. “O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

“And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God.” (Mosiah 4:21–22.)

In so directing our giving, the Lord yet counsels us to be wise. “See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength.” (Mosiah 4:27.) Our obligations to our families and others who have claim on our resources cannot be set aside. One of our real challenges as Latter-day Saints is to find ways to meet our current obligations while moving beyond them to give of our resources generously and out of pure motives.

In trying to understand how to appropriately serve others, we have no better example than the Savior himself. It was he who gave the greatest offering—his atoning sacrifice. Offered without the least reservation, this act of selflessness stands supreme, “leaving us an example, that ye should follow.” (1 Pet. 2:21.)

Let’s look now at the responsibilities of the recipient of financial relief. The Atonement again provides a powerful parallel. Although redemption from personal sins was a gift freely given to all, its total beneficial effect is conditional on the individual’s meeting certain prescribed requirements—repenting and obeying the other principles and ordinances of the gospel. In a similar way, relief to the needy, also freely given, will only sanctify the recipient when he or she accepts certain responsibilities.

These responsibilities include humility, gratitude, and an obligation to accept assistance only sufficient for one’s needs—food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. These latter essential ingredients, suggested by Mosiah 4:26, should satisfy us. To take more than this is to expect more than we deserve. As Paul said to Timothy: “Having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” (1 Tim. 6:8.)

Laboring with our own hands is also one of our obligations. (See Mosiah 27:4; D&C 56:17.) Whatever our circumstances, we should work to the extent of our abilities to be self-sustaining.

From the foregoing, it should be clear that neither the giver nor the receiver can make demands upon each other, or else the essence of charity is lost. Though both are reliant upon each other to satisfy temporal and spiritual needs, yet Christlike behavior requires that neither be the judge of the other.