Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Economic Justice

Someone called me from another state yesterday and asked about what responsibility we, and our government, have in connection with those who are most vulnerable to hardship. I've also been concerned about the fate of our elders (such as nursing home residents) and others needing health care people in the face of budget cuts. Does the Bible have anything to say?

Certainly, as individuals and families, God commands us to care and to share (for example, see Ephesians 4:28). That's taught from every Christian perspective. But what isn't always acknowledged is that the scriptures also speak to us about "economic justice." But is "economic justice" is the job of the government? Whew--now there's a can of worms! I think that the the scriptures do give government a role (though not the only role) in making sure that everyone has a chance to "make it" in our society.

Some scripture verses, for example, focus on the role of the king, who is commanded to be the champion of the poor and oppressed. The question is, then, in our country, what the role of the government is when there is no "king," when, instead, we have a government "of... by... and for the people." In such a case as that, what is our responsibility as citizens, voters and taxpayers?

Jim Jordal, a member of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Taylors Falls, put together a list of some verses related to economic justice a few years ago. You can retrieve it in pdf format by clicking here. He is part of a group called A Minnesota Without Poverty.

Here are a couple of examples of some places that I think the Bible talks about economic justice:

Psalm 72...
Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy...
And here's part of Psalm 113...
Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high,
who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
To go a bit deeper into this, I'd like to share a section of a commentary from the book There Shall Be No Poor Among You: Poverty in the Bible by Leslie J. Hoppe.
"Psalm 72:2, as it is prays for the king to be endowed with God’s justice, speaks of 'your [God’s] poor.' The king is the protector of the poor because he stands in God’s place... The Psalms in general consistently portrays God as the protector of the poor. Psalm 113 calls Israel to praise God precisely because the one who is “high above all nations” (v.4) uses the divine power to reverse the fortunes of the poor, who are forced to scavenge for food among the garbage (v.7) The person who had no social standing now has access to the places of power.

"The psalm, then, lends divine authority to every attempt to halt and reverse the process whereby Israel becomes a nation permanently divided into two economic classes. The psalm makes sense only against the backdrop of the real social conflict that Israel’s prophets railed against. The psalm asserts that in this conflict God will take the side of the poor.

"Psalm 72 presents the king as the instrument by which God’s justice and righteousness come to the people, especially the poor (vv. 1-2). The very basis of the king’s legitimacy rests on his taking the side of the poor as the instrument of divine justice (vv. 12-16). The psalm concludes by acknowledging that God is the source of justice no matter who the human agent may be (vv. 17-19). There is no spiritualization of the poor here. When Ps 72 speaks about the poor and needy, it is speaking about those people whose lack of material resources makes their exploitation a simple matter..."
Now this doesn't tell us how we ought to vote or how the issue of poverty should be addressed, but it does say that we need to care. We can't ignore the responsibilities we all have, collectively, as a nation, as well as individually, as citizens, to those vulnerable and poor.

What do you think? As always, I'd love to hear or read what you have to say!

1 comment:

  1. This is a great discussion to have! People are afraid to talk about it because it is a difficult issue. However, God gives us the wisdom about it, and with that we can try to understand. It is easy to forget the poor, especially when we are in a small town. I am in San Antonio now, and along one of the roads I drive there is a "slum village" or a make-shift community where homeless people tent up and live. This is a constant reminder of the depths of this issue, and I pray that God give me a heart of strength to empathize and remember them.