John T. Willis

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Widows, Orphans, and Aliens

The Bible portrays God as having a "special place in his heart" for widows, orphans, and aliens. This is due to the fact that people who find themselves in these types of situations are particularly vulnerable to oppression, mistreatment, and abuse. Note the following passages:

Exodus 22:21-24: "You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans."

Deuteronomy 10:17-18: "For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who exercises justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing."

Deuteronomy 24:17-22: "You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow's garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this."

Prophetic texts like Isaiah 1:16-17, 21-23; Micah 2:8-9; and Zechariah 7:8-10 teach the same thing. James 1:27 proclaims essentially the same message: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Concern for and care of aliens, orphans, widows, the poor, the disadvantaged, the helpless, the disabled, etc., lies at the very heart of "true godliness" and "true Christianity."

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Priorities of "Religious" People

All human beings struggle with establishing priorities. The criteria for doing this vary widely. Are my priorities designed to benefit "me" or "my family" or "my church" or "my community" or "the poor" or "those who are down on their luck" or "children" or "university students" or "senior citizens" or . . . ? Are my priorities "social" in nature or "emotional" or "recreational" or "financial" or "spiritual" or "global" or . . . ?

For many people who consider themselves to be "religious," priorities often fall into the realm of engaging in different kinds of "religious activities," as attending corporate worship regularly, reading the Bible daily, praying routinely, meeting in "small groups," having a role in "religious camps," sharing in "religious retreats," . . .

For many in Israel, priorities centered around offering the right sacrifice in the right way at the right time in the right order with the right words in the right place. Several biblical texts address this "mind set."

Proverbs 21:27:
"The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;
how much more when brought with evil intent."

Proverbs 15:8:
"The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
but the prayer of the upright is his delight."

Proverbs 21:3:
"To do righteousness and justice
is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice."

Psalm 51:17:
"The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."

Hebrews 13:16:
"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,
for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."

God is much more concerned with a transformed heart and service to others than with external "religious activities."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

God Pays No Attention

Injustice has always "run rampant" through the world. Job's complaints about this are as relevant today as they were when first expressed.

"Why are times not kept by the Almighty,
and why do those who know him never see his days?
The wicked remove landmarks;
they seize flocks and pasture them.
They drive away the donkey of the orphan;
they take the widow's ox for a pledge.
They thrust the needy off the road;
the poor of the earth all hide themselves.
Like wild asses in the desert
they go out to their toil,
scavenging in the wasteland
food for their young.
They reap in a field not their own
and they glean in the vineyard of the wicked.
They lie all night naked, without clothing,
and have no covering in the cold.
They are wet with the rain of the mountains,
and cling to the rock for want of shelter.
There are those who snatch the orphan child from the breast,
and take as a pledge the infant of the poor.
They go about naked, without clothing;
though hungry, they carry the sheaves;
between their terraces they press out oil;
they tread the winepresses, but suffer thirst.
From the city the dying groan,
and the throat of the wounded cries for help;

Sensitive Christians empathize with the oppressed. Philosophers and theologians seek explanations for injustice on earth. Does God exist? Does not God have the power to do something about this? Is God unloving, and therefore does not care about those who suffer wrong?

There are no satisfactory intellectual answers to the tough questions of life. But still, the message of the Bible is to trust in God--his wisdom, his power, his love--in spite of "evidence" opposing such trust. Reason or Logic may not be the answer to life's most difficult dilemmas. Maybe we need to trust when there seem to be good reasons not to trust.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Knowing God

"To know God" is the primary term which the Bible uses to describe a human being's right relationship to God. Often this phrase is misunderstood, because under Greek influence many people define "know" as an intellectual activity of the mind. But biblically, "know" is a relationship term which involves the whole person, not merely the mind. To "know" God in the Bible is the equivalent of "trusting in" God in all circumstances.

Jeremiah 10:25 relates this prayer to God:
"Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not KNOW you,
and on the peoples that do not CALL ON YOUR NAME."
The synonymous parallelism in this passage defines "knowing God" as "calling on the name of God," that is, seeking his help in times of trouble because one deeply trusts in him.

Jeremiah 22:15-16 contain this address to King Jehoiakim of Judah, who was using his power and position to harm well-meaning Judeans in his kingdom who built a palace for him.
"Are you a king because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father [Josiah] eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to KNOW me? says the Lord."
According to this text, "knowing God" means to have a right relationship to him, which naturally leads a person to love and care for the poor and needy and oppressed and disadvantaged.

Hosea 6:6 is very instructive on the meaning of "knowing God":
"For I [God] desire STEADFAST LOVE and not sacrifice,
the KNOWLEDGE OF GOD rather than burnt offerings."
The synonymous parallelism here defines "knowing God" as "loving God steadfastly."

Knowledge of God is experience of the reality of God as a living person [not a machine or a robot or a thing], not ascribing intellectually to certain propositions about God.