Justice and the Character of God
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Prov. 31:8-9.
While I can’t remember the first time I read this passage I do remember its effect on me. Passages like this introduced me to an aspect of God’s character that I hadn’t heard in church, from the bible teachers I listened to on the radio or the books of theology I read. As I progressed in my walk with the Lord I discovered it also wasn’t addressed in my seminary education nor the theological conferences I attended so eagerly. That didn’t mean the issues these passages addressed were absent in this society. In fact, growing up in West Philadelphia they were impossible to ignore. Issues connected with cyclical poverty including a lack of opportunity, official restrictions on access to housing and jobs, poor education, and ongoing injustices affected our lives and caused many of us to wonder just where was God in all of this. I witnessed part of this first hand one day as I walked home from a bowling outing with two friends. The bowling alley was a few miles from and in a different neighborhood from ours but it was a nice day, we were all in good shape, and so decided to walk home instead of waiting for the bus. As we made our way back home a police van pulled up right in front of us as we were about to cross the street, demanded we stop, firmly questioned us regarding our presence in this neighborhood and required we produce some form of identification. (That last part was a bit difficult since none of us had a drivers license) After ordering us to get home as quickly as possible we were allowed to leave. Among the interesting aspects of this incident was the fact that I had regularly traveled back and forth to this neighborhood to attend school since I was in the third grade. At the time of the incident I was a high school sophomore and on any given school day rather than waiting for public transportation would walk home either alone or with a group of classmates. And we were never bothered. But that day was different. That day was not a school day which meant I suppose I had no official reason to be there. That day I was not carrying a book bag and walking with a group of other students that would identify me as student of Robert E. Lamberton public school. That day I was one of three black teens who if I recall were the only black people walking on the main avenue of that neighborhood. Now what if anything did this have to do with my personal, individual salvation in Jesus Christ? Well, that’s what this series is about. At first I too didn’t think that Scripture spoke on these issues apart from our Lord Jesus’ declaration that we’ll always have the poor with us, Paul’s command to refuse to feed those who refused to work and the Scriptural requirement of me to obey those in authority. But I continued to come across passages similar to Prov. 31:8-9 that challenged me to consider that the living God just might be interested in the issues communities like mine grappled with on a regular basis. Beyond that these passages made a strong case that the God of Scripture truly cared for the poor and less powerful as people. Prayerfully, this series of articles will help to equip God’s people to discuss the poor and less powerful and the issues that affect them from a point of view centered in what God says and thus what Scripture teaches. In so doing I hope to encourage those believers who are currently working on the behalf of the poor and less powerful and kindly challenge those who aren’t to consider doing so. Along the way we’ll examine important biblical themes like justice, work, ‘the poor’ oppression, compassion, the kingdom of God and the gospel. Proverbs 31:8-9 will serve as our series theme passage. I believe this passage serves us well for a number of reasons. Firstly, it ties together the theme of biblical social justice put forth in the book of Proverbs and thus cements the truth that pursuing justice for the poor and less powerful is one of the central elements of a life of godly wisdom. Secondly, it twice calls for God’s people to literally speak up on the behalf of the poor. This conveys that we are to be aware of the issues that affect them and then be willing to advocate for them concerning these issues. Thirdly, like the rest of the passages we’ll investigate, Prov. 31:8-9 calls for God’s people to adopt a particular attitude toward the poor and less powerful. We’re not to see them as drains on our society, problems that need to be fixed or a group of people who just need a strong kick in the pants so they can ‘get it together’. Rather, God commands us to view them as people made in His image who are to be loved, respected and treated kindly. Lastly, the passage underscores the biblical teaching that the poor have rights which are to be preserved, promoted and not denied. By God’s grace our brief journey through this subject will give us some insight into the character of God, the nature of Christ’s kingdom and the potential we have for a relevant and powerful witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Joyfully in Christ, Pastor Lance Lewis Soaring Oaks Presbyterian Church Elk Grove, CA