YHWH Takes Sides

NOTE: This post was written by one of our guest bloggers, Nathaniel Grimes. For more from Nathaniel, be sure to check out his page.

“I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.  And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” 
Luke 4:25-27

This advent we Christians look forward with expectation to the decisive action of YHWH on behalf of his creation. We want to see humanity saved and reconciled to our Creator. However, we must be prepared for the scandalous way He will accomplish this. We can not miss the fact that YHWH does appear to play favorites.

In Scripture, YHWH makes a statement about His own priorities by continuously choosing weak and marginalized people. This could at least in part be attributed to His unique sense of justice. It is because of his concern for all people that He shows Himself strong on behalf of the weak. YHWH continually chooses that which was “rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him” (1 Peter 2:4). In a world of corruption and oppression, it is not enough for the divine presence to be seen as equally, abstractly supportive of all people. In His particular, active election of the weak, He is concretely demonstrating his power, His character, and opening up the possibility for redemption of the strong. Other gods could be seen as favoring the strong (or in fact, the strong could claim their position as evidence of God’s favor). But YHWH does not pile on. That is why even as He shaped Israel into a regional power, He continually instructed them to care for the marginalized. When Israel refused, they found themselves in conflict with their own God.

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Starting when they are very young, American children come to believe that black children feel less pain. This continues into adulthood, when even pediatricians prescribe less pain medication to their black patients

YHWH feels the pain and hears the cries of His people. When Ishmael was suffering in the desert without food or water, having been banished into the wilderness by the father of promise, YHWH heard and acted. When Israel was groaning under Egyptian slavery and the brutal logic of accumulation, YHWH heard and acted. YHWH has always been concerned with the pain of His people. He not only hears the cry of the oppressed, He enters into suffering with them.. When Jesus was suffering on a Roman cross, in solidarity with all victims of empire, he cried out. YHWH heard and acted.

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In building a case for reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates showed the effect that housing policy has on black wealth, drawing on Patrick Sharkey’s study of black wealth, and the effect of neighborhoods on economic mobility. Sharkey’s research shows that black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000. “Blacks and whites inhabit such different neighborhoods,” Sharkey writes, “that it is not possible to compare the economic outcomes of black and white children.”

The Savior was not sent to Earth as a generic human, without a history or concrete social position. He chose to come to a people under Roman imperial rule. And of that people, He chose to come to the anawim, the lowly ones who were poor and oppressed even by their own. By taking the side of the poor and weak, he opened the opportunity of redemption for the rich and the strong. They were given a choice to repent, and identify with Jesus and the poor, or to stand against Him. Redemption for them, was taking the side of the poor, which is the side of Jesus.

Jesus’ message of good news to the poor and woe to the rich caused sorrow. Some might have preferred he preach a generic message of good news to all, but that would have been out of step with his mission. Jesus didn’t need to accuse Zacchaeus or the rich young ruler of harboring malice towards poor people. In fact, their feelings were not a priority. Jesus wanted to stop the plunder of the poor, and gave the rich a chance at redemption, which here meant taking the side of the poor (the side of Jesus).

When we approach Scripture with an unhealthy inclination toward modern liberal conceptions of fairness, the manner and result of YHWH’s choosing will offend us. He “works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.” He has a different message for those responsible for the oppression. Both these messages fit inside the framework of YHWH’s redemptive work in creation. Sinners have the opportunity to repent and align themselves with that redemptive work.

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Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

“All lives matter” is a meaningless truism that is harmless out of context. When issued as a corrective to “black lives matter,” it risks missing the specificity and concrete character of YHWH’s work in the world. We have a God who specifically affirms the value of lives that are under threat. The work of Jesus in America, where people that have been identified as black are singled out for plunder and death, is to decisively take their side. YHWH takes sides, because in creating systems of marginalization, the powerful have taken sides against him.

The cries of black folks in this country have reached the ears of YHWH. While He does not “prefer” people due to their ethnicity and skin color, the world at large does, and this does not happen outside His sight. In America, black folks have been and continue to be dehumanized, mistreated and plundered in ways that offend Him. Without having done a thing, as a white man in America I am objectively on the side of evil.  And to add to that, I have not been blameless. I have continually ignored, belittled, or even actively participated in the oppression of my brothers and sisters. The hope that I see in Jesus’ work is the opportunity for me to continually repent and align myself fully with him, and with them.

This advent season, the world is crying out for justice, for the valleys to be filled and the mountains made low. As we see in the Incarnation, YHWH continually comes to the aid of the oppressed, and by affirming the value of their lives, clears a path for the salvation of all. In America today, Jesus is working through his church to declare “black lives matter.

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way. 
Luke 4:28-30

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Nathaniel Grimes

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  • Samuel Martin

    Ecclesiastes 4 New International Version (NIV)

    Oppression, Toil, Friendlessness

    4 Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:

    I saw the tears of the oppressed—
    and they have no comforter;
    power was on the side of their oppressors—
    and they have no comforter.
    2 And I declared that the dead,
    who had already died,
    are happier than the living,
    who are still alive.
    3 But better than both
    is the one who has never been born,
    who has not seen the evil
    that is done under the sun.

    Just because creation doesn’t emulate God’s love, doesn’t mean God has forgotten his creation. Redemption is coming