“Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
will himself call out and not be answered”
God is a God of justice. We see this common theme throughout the Old Testament and throughout the New Testament as well. It’s inescapable. Just try to read the Bible without encountering texts about justice. We must come face to face with a God who cares about equity and justice when searching the Scriptures.
However, when we look at the world the God of justice seems hidden. Brokenness prevails. More than that, the world is sinful. Evil and arrogant people prosper at the expense of the poor and needy. Poverty, racism, and violence are rampant, and countless people are oppressed by both individuals and systems. We know this at least on an intellectual level. Perhaps we’ve experienced this injustice ourselves, or perhaps we need to put ourselves in the shoes of others. That’s what happened to us at SAUP this past week.
On Thursday night, after another week of work at our ministry sites, we came back to a cultural simulation of poverty. We were separated into different “family” groups in which we all experienced simulated poverty. We lived as the poor - from clothing to eating to even activities. At one point when we were outside, my family group bumped into an older couple who at first was hostile to us (they could tell we weren’t poor). But after a while they began sharing their experiences in life. It was in that moment I began to realize the reality of racism and how unexpectedly and suddenly a normal and educated person can plunge into poverty. We found out that they had lost everything due to medical bills from heart attacks. I was able to pray for them and yet instead of us encouraging them they actually ended up encouraging us! God does unexpected things.
This simulation gave us a tiny taste of what it was like to be in the shoes of the poor, the oppressed, and the foreigner. We also had intensive teaching about the injustices in our American systems. Here’s the point: systems matter. There is systemic injustice. It’s not enough to focus on individual choices and personal sin when battling the issue. Injustice does not just stem from bad individuals and it also doesn’t just stem from corrupt systems; it’s both. There must be a balance when approaching the subject. As Christians, we are called to care about personal sin and systemic sin. And we as Christians have the only solution to both: Christ in us the hope of glory.
Isaiah 58 also testifies to this truth as it distinguishes true fasting from false fasting and gives us our response to injustice as Christians. At first glance, God describes Israel as a people that “delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness” (v. 2). Yet, God does not accept their outward piety of sackcloth and ashes. Not only is their fasting not heard but their practices are condemned. What then is true fasting to the Lord?
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)
We continue to see God’s hatred of injustice in Ezekiel 22. God judges Israel for her bloodshed, bribery, extortions, greed, immorality, the oppression of widows and sojourners, etc. Then God presents a final grievance: “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30) God is looking for someone to stand in the gap and to practice true fasting. It only takes one righteous person yielded to the Lord to stop injustice. Perhaps the God of justice seems hidden because the body of Christ isn’t being the body. Perhaps injustice and evil prevail because we aren’t living as image bearers of the God of justice. Perhaps things are the way they are because, really, we are comfortable with it.
Who will stand in the gap? How will we respond to the call of God and to the cry of the poor? We cannot afford to stand idly by as those who have hope in the gospel. We are the light of the world, the hands and feet of Christ, and the repairer of the breach. May the Lord not grant us rest until we walk out our true identity in a lost and dying world.