If you don’t know who Skye Jethani is, he’s an author and minister who puts out a daily newsletter called With God Daily (among other things). It’s a daily meditation, and there’s usually a theme that runs through several days or even weeks where he explores a topic or an idea. His newsletter on January 14, 2020 was part two of an examination of God’s anger toward injustice.
In that post, Skye asked a very important question: did God save the Israelites from Egypt because they were God’s people or because they were being oppressed? He then suggests that this subtle difference is significant, because how we perceive God’s concern for injustice determines how we approach our own concern for injustice or rationalize our participation in injustice.
“If we put the emphasis on a person’s identity then God becomes a tribal deity—a discriminating God who distributes blessing or punishment, justice or compassion based on which group you belong to.” — Skye Jethani
However, if God saves them because they are oppressed, it’s the oppression and injustice itself that God pushes against.
This is such an important topic for Americans today. American Christians are so quick to justify their actions. We’re very good at rationalizing from scripture so that we can do what we want, when we want. We are particularly good at finding ways to oppress people in the name of Christ, in the name of God, by the calling of the Spirit, in accordance with God’s will, for their own good, etc. We justify to ourselves that because other people are not good people, we can oppress them, and God will be pleased. However, we don’t find that in scripture in how God talks to God’s people about other people.
In the story of the Exodus, when God leads the Israelites out of Egypt, God continually reminds them who they are. Who they are isn’t about anything that they do or don’t do. Who they are is about what God has done for them, which is bring them out of slavery and save them from oppression.
All throughout the law, God instructs them to do the same for others, particularly for widows, orphans, the poor, and foreigners. These four groups of regularly oppressed people can be found all over the world throughout all of history. We find ourselves in America dealing with this very thing — dealing with this issue of how to address the poor and the disenfranchised and the foreigners in our land — and many people are trying to justify bigotry and hatred and oppression by making everything political or making everything about moral identity or drawing moral lines in the sand. They say that people have to meet certain thresholds and certain standards of Christian moral obligation in order to be considered worthy of our help, consideration, and acceptance. Yet, this is exactly the kind of attitude that God speaks against in the story of the Exodus.
It’s precisely this sort of identity-driven justice that says you must look like us, think like us, and accept the things that we accept in order to be worthy, which drives a wedge between peoples. That way of thinking entices us to believe that “we” have the love of God and “they” don’t. The truth is that the oppressed already have the love of God, and God’s ear is inclined to them.
When we submit our lives to an identity-driven sense of justice we separate ourselves from the love of God and the work that God is already doing in the world. It doesn’t matter how much rationalizing or justifying we do for ourselves, our actions, and our communities; it doesn’t matter how much theological gymnastics we put into our arguments.
In the end, God’s Justice isn’t a matter of tribal identity. God hates oppression, and it doesn’t matter if it’s coming from us or from a foreigner or from some rich mogul sitting in a high tower somewhere. God inclines God’s ear to the oppressed, and we need to be careful to remember that if we become the oppressor, God will not justify us.
We must give an account of everything we do in life, and I believe that when the disenfranchised, the poor, the foreigner, the widow, the orphan, the sick, and the imprisoned cry out to God, God is compassionate to them. If we want to be where God is and do what God does, we should think about that carefully before we begin to dismiss people and condemn people for not being like us.
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