O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
Psalm 10:17-18 ESV
For those of you who are feeling brokenhearted, scared or even overwhelmed, these words are comforting aren’t they? We don’t often think of GOD’s justice as being a comfort. It can often feel condemning. But it is for those who don’t experience much justice… or whose experience of life has been mostly injustice.
For many of us who are middle class or above, we can’t even feature what a life of injustice is like. If our skin is white, we are even less likely to know what it is like. I know we tire of hearing about white privilege. Many of us don’t feel very privileged. It is a privilege we take for granted. I know I do.
But I have never gone to look for a house and been prejudiced against because of my skin color. Or tried to rent a home in a certain neighborhood and found that once they saw me, I was told it was no longer available. Or because of my name on a job application, my skin color was assumed and I wasn’t even considered for the job!
I have never driven down a highway in some parts of the country and been stopped because of the color of my skin. Of course, it wasn’t the stated reason. But that was the underlying reason. No traffic laws had been broken. I have never had that experience. I have never experienced problems with financing for a house because of my skin color, or buying a house in certain neighborhoods because of redlining.
For many, injustice is a dark cloud that casts gloom over the parts of their lives that should bring joy!
This year, I experienced a small form of injustice. You know what? I hated it! And I realized that if I were poor, it would have been much more a part of my daily life. I might not have realized I had the right to speak up against what happened. I probably wouldn’t have known who to ask for help or where to go to get advice. I wouldn’t have known those people in real life.
Yes, there are more people of color who have those networks now compared to when I was growing up in the 1950’s. But there is still a color delineation in many places, that affects the ability to prosper in ways that white people can. It isn’t as hard as it once was, because of laws that help, but not everyone knows about those laws. stop
The other problem that happens is that there is a lot that happens that isn’t official. It is a bit underground. Think about teasing in school, stopping cars on the side of the road, jobs that aren’t given and a host of other areas of life that are affected. There are stated reasons why something happens…or doesn’t. Then there is the real reason.
For many, injustice is a way of life. It is a low grade gloom over their lives that casts a shadow over everything that might bring joy. Those of us who have privilege are unaware of how privileged we are.
We who have privilege, need to think of tangible ways we can help those who don’t have it. But we shouldn’t do it in a vacuum. We need to find ways in community with them, to learn where their felt needs are…and where they have resources. Just as they have weaknesses and strengths, so do we. Going there thinking we are the strong ones with no problems and they are the weak ones with no strengths will hurt everyone.
We need to make use of our privilege in tangible ways. Do we speak up to the cashier that insists on making a big deal over cashing a check with our black friend in ways she doesn’t with us? Why is that? Do we have friends we know in our network whose wisdom can help our less privileged friends? How can we make connections?
One key is to be sure our less privileged friends want the kind of help we want to offer. The places we see a need may not be where they feel the need at all. When that is the case, it will be hurtful and not wanted at all!
Two helpful books? (I have read one and heard Brian Fikkert and Michael Rhodes at a recent conference.) When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, et al. and Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How we Work, Earn, Spend, Save and Give by Michael Rhodes and Robby Holt.
One point made at the recent conference was this: think of anything you do with the poor as going to a potluck meal rather than a soup kitchen. At a potluck, everyone comes with something. At a soup kitchen, the “haves” come to one side of the table, the “have-nots” come to the other side of the table and everyone walks away with their weakness reinforced. It is something to think about!
“The Rock, his work is perfect,
for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
just and upright is he.
Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV