8.20.09, Isaiah 9:17; 10:1-4

17 Therefore the Lord will take no pleasure in the young men,
nor will he pity the fatherless and widows,
for everyone is ungodly and wicked,
every mouth speaks vileness.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised.

————————————-

1 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,

2 to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.

3 What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?

4 Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised.

This Is His Heart

This might get a bit tricky, but it’s worth talking about…

Some say that we need to give charity to the poor because they are helpless.  They have been victimized and oppressed, and through no fault of their own, are in the situation they are in.  This is often true, as some people go through a tough season or a medical or family emergency that begins their slide into poverty.  And so, we open our hearts and hands to the poor.

Other say that the poor are poor for a reason.   Perhaps they are poor due to substance abuse, and charity only reinforces the cycle of abuse – this is true as drugs are one of the main causes of chronic poverty in the United States.  Or maybe they are simply not making the right choices in life, prioritizing luxuries before essentials.  I have personally seen $40,000 Escalades parked the driveways of houses that were in school districts that didn’t have school supplies, and found myself shaking my head in disbelief.  And so, we close our hearts and hands to the poor.

When we begin to frame our response to poverty and oppression solely by looking at those who are poor and oppressed, this will inevitably be the result – an analysis of the situation which is simultaneously nearly correct, and so very wrong.  Churches and leaders become divided, our response is ambivalent, and our testimony stifled.

There is a better way to approach this situation.

We don’t address poverty and oppression because the poor and oppressed are perfect people, pure victims who have done nothing to deserve their fate.  This what is made clear in Isaiah 9:17, that even the young, the fatherless, and the widow are ungodly, wicked, and speak vileness.  Too often, our mischaracterization of the poor and oppressed as perfect victims has served as our primary motivation for addressing their needs.  But when this illusion is dispelled (as inevitably it is), so also is our motivation for service and compassion.

But what we see in Isaiah 10:1-4 is this: that even after acknowledging that the oppressed are sinners as well, we are immediately called in the strongest possible terms to fight poverty and injustice, and to care for the marginalized.  Obviously, our calling to these ministries is far deeper than mistaking all poor people as victims of circumstances beyond their control.  This calling is rooted in a command, that God has commanded us to serve these people to the very best of our ability.  You see, our motivation for compassion is not the face of the victim, but the voice of our Father.

But you may say to yourself, “But seeing the poor and oppressed as victims helps soften our hearts and convinces us that we are doing the right thing!”  I suppose this is true to some extent, and we at times need the emotional leg-up.  But this betrays some serious misunderstandings as to the nature of God, and those who follow him:

We don’t know what is good because it feels good – we know what’s good because God has said it.  If he said it, it’s good.

Jesus is our Lord, and the idea of Lordship does not require God to convince us of the merits of his causes.  If it is his cause, it automatically has merit.

So we don’t have to be blissfully ignorant of the failures of people to serve them – we serve them because the people of God follow the leading of God.  And the beautiful consequence of seeing this situation in this light is that it destroys the barrier between us and the poor and oppressed.  They are no longer purely victims – they are sinner/victims that we are called to love despite their sins and shortcomings.  And I think we all know some sinner/victims that were loved by Christ despite their sins and shortcomings.  In this way, Christ calling us to serve the poor and oppressed is really no different than the love that Christ has shown each one of us.

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8.20.09, Isaiah 9:17; 10:1-4

17 Therefore the Lord will take no pleasure in the young men,
nor will he pity the fatherless and widows,
for everyone is ungodly and wicked,
every mouth speaks vileness.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised.

————————————-

1 Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,

2 to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.

3 What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?

4 Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
his hand is still upraised.

This Is His Heart

This might get a bit tricky, but it’s worth talking about…

Some say that we need to give charity to the poor because they are helpless.  They have been victimized and oppressed, and through no fault of their own, are in the situation they are in.  This is often true, as some people go through a tough season or a medical or family emergency that begins their slide into poverty.  And so, we open our hearts and hands to the poor.

Other say that the poor are poor for a reason.   Perhaps they are poor due to substance abuse, and charity only reinforces the cycle of abuse – this is true as drugs are one of the main causes of chronic poverty in the United States.  Or maybe they are simply not making the right choices in life, prioritizing luxuries before essentials.  I have personally seen $40,000 Escalades parked the driveways of houses that were in school districts that didn’t have school supplies, and found myself shaking my head in disbelief.  And so, we close our hearts and hands to the poor.

When we begin to frame our response to poverty and oppression solely by looking at those who are poor and oppressed, this will inevitably be the result – an analysis of the situation which is simultaneously nearly correct, and so very wrong.  Churches and leaders become divided, our response is ambivalent, and our testimony stifled.

There is a better way to approach this situation.

We don’t address poverty and oppression because the poor and oppressed are perfect people, pure victims who have done nothing to deserve their fate.  This what is made clear in Isaiah 9:17, that even the young, the fatherless, and the widow are ungodly, wicked, and speak vileness.  Too often, our mischaracterization of the poor and oppressed as perfect victims has served as our primary motivation for addressing their needs.  But when this illusion is dispelled (as inevitably it is), so also is our motivation for service and compassion.

But what we see in Isaiah 10:1-4 is this: that even after acknowledging that the oppressed are sinners as well, we are immediately called in the strongest possible terms to fight poverty and injustice, and to care for the marginalized.  Obviously, our calling to these ministries is far deeper than mistaking all poor people as victims of circumstances beyond their control.  This calling is rooted in a command, that God has commanded us to serve these people to the very best of our ability.  You see, our motivation for compassion is not the face of the victim, but the voice of our Father.

But you may say to yourself, “But seeing the poor and oppressed as victims helps soften our hearts and convinces us that we are doing the right thing!”  I suppose this is true to some extent, and we at times need the emotional leg-up.  But this betrays some serious misunderstandings as to the nature of God, and those who follow him:

We don’t know what is good because it feels good – we know what’s good because God has said it.  If he said it, it’s good.

Jesus is our Lord, and the idea of Lordship does not require God to convince us of the merits of his causes.  If it is his cause, it automatically has merit.

So we don’t have to be blissfully ignorant of the failures of people to serve them – we serve them because the people of God follow the leading of God.  And the beautiful consequence of seeing this situation in this light is that it destroys the barrier between us and the poor and oppressed.  They are no longer purely victims – they are sinner/victims that we are called to love despite their sins and shortcomings.  And I think we all know some sinner/victims that were loved by Christ despite their sins and shortcomings.  In this way, Christ calling us to serve the poor and oppressed is really no different than the love that Christ has shown each one of us.