I’ve been reading quite a bit in Psalms recently. This morning I was reading through Psalms 9 and 10, which exalt God as the God of Justice, the stronghold for the oppressed. It was interesting to me that God’s role as judge was seen as a sign of hope in these Psalms, a cause for rejoicing. Often references to God’s justice are tinged with negativity and allude to an exacting, vengeful God. But here God is exalted as the just judge, the One who comes to make wrongs right, to aid the poor, to lift the afflicted from their bondage and destroy the enemies of righteousness. I suppose that if you were one of the oppressors, this would be a negative message, but for the poor and downtrodden, God’s promises of justice are good news indeed!
Reading these Psalms, I was struck by how much God loves justice. He’s jealous for our personal righteousness, but even beyond that, He’s passionate about social justice. He does not turn away indifferent to the injustice around us. The exploitation of the vulnerable stirs Him to action. He promises that the oppression of the wicked will not prevail.
But do I live according to that truth about God’s character? Though I’m moved with compassion for the poor, sometimes I feel like I dismiss injustice too easily with a “that’s just the way things are” attitude. What would it look like to truly reflect God’s passion for justice? How would my life change if I pursued that same commitment to justice in every area of my life?
A small but practical first step could be being more conscious about the things we buy. Take bananas, for instance. Bananas are probably the cheapest fruit available around here. In fact, we have a bunch of Dole bananas (as well as a Dole pineapple) sitting on our kitchen table right now, a good deal from this week’s grocery trip and a sweet luxury. But at whose expense? The majority of the banana market – controlled in America by three companies, Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte – thrives because South American peasants work for next to nothing so they can survive and so we can enjoy cheap fruit (check out this article for more information).
“So long as there is poverty on the planet there will always be human beings willing to do just about anything for just about nothing….And so long as there is someone desperate enough to work for a dollar or two a day, there is someone else willing to exploit that labor for those of us who just want a cheap pair of jeans.” (Scott Bessenecker, The New Friars, p. 33).
Cheap bananas. Cheap jeans. These are just a few of the lengthy list of staples in our culture, available cheaply because of the exploitation of the desperate poor in other countries. Can we justify their place in our lives?
“Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others,” Richard Foster writes. “This is one of the most difficult and sensitive issues for us to face, but face it we must. Do we sip our coffee and eat our bananas at the expense of exploiting Latin American peasants? In a world of limited resources, does our lust for wealth mean the poverty of others? Should we buy products that are made by forcing people into dull assembly-line jobs? Do we enjoy hierarchical relationships in the company or factory that keep others under us?” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 94-95).
In our capitalistic culture, eliminating these products that breed the oppression of other would require significant sacrifice. Buying fair trade is expensive. Cheap staples like bananas might become rare treats. We might have to buy more expensive clothing or buy used (or even make our own). We would have to sacrifice he convenience of many conventional products. More time would be required for researching other options and making things from scratch. Luxuries we take for granted might have to be eliminated to afford the higher cost of justice. It would be expensive, time-consuming, inconvenient.
Maybe God would understand if we just bought a few things fair trade but mainly stick to buying what’s cheap. After all, we’re called to be good stewards of our resources. Surely God understands that we’re just doing what’s necessary to get by, right?
But when I read Psalms 9 and 10 again, they thunder with the description of God’s commitment to justice:
“The helpless are crushed, laid low;
they fall into the power of the wicked,
Who say in their hearts, ‘God pays no attention,
shows no concern, never bothers to look.’
Rise up, Lord God! Raise your arm!
Do not forget the poor!
Why should the wicked scorn God,
say in their hearts, ‘God doesn’t care’?
But you do see;
you do observe this misery and sorrow;
you take the matter in hand.
To you the helpless can entrust their cause;
you are the defender of orphans.” – Psalm 10:10-14
“The Lord is revealed in this divine rule:
by the deeds they do the wicked are trapped.” – Psalm 10:17
Could it be that this passionate God of justice does indeed care about our breakfast choices? Though the implications of this overwhelm me sometimes, I believe He does. Derek and I drink locally-roasted, ethically-produced coffee now (it helps that Derek works for a local coffee company), buy local, organic milk (and eggs when we can), and try to shop at farmer’s markets when we can. But we still eat bananas and buy store brand pasta and rice. We still have a ways to go.
And obviously this is only a little piece of pursuing justice. Injustice is deeply entrenched in our culture and our world. It goes far beyond the food and clothing industries (I didn’t even touch on the serious injustice of abortion, human trafficking, ethnic cleansing….). Bessendecker goes on to talk about other forces that suck people into poverty and hold them there, like entrenched survival mindsets, sin, and spiritual forces. He says, “These are the cultural, personal and spiritual forces of poverty, and it is these powers that governments and international bodies like the UN have very little impact on. These things require people of faith to get close enough for long enough to have influence.” (The New Friars, p. 44). That’s where incarnational ministry becomes powerful. I’m sure that as we pursue a life of incarnational ministry here in our neighborhood, issues of justice will surface and we’ll be called to step even further into the reality of life with our God who passionately loves justice.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” – James 1:27