It’s 5 am, and I’ve been lying awake for the last 3 hours, wondering how to prepare my children to handle the issues of tomorrow. To stand up against the oppression that I find rampant across my social media pages.
I know that someday (soon, by God’s grace), the fact that black lives matter will be a given. Racial oppression will be an issue of the past. Which means that teaching my children to understand, fight for, and love all races may help them in today’s battle, but what about tomorrow’s?
The reality is, oppression is nothing new. The problem is, we keep trying to solve it the wrong way.
God’s view of oppression
Throughout the Bible, we see oppression. Individuals oppressing other individuals. Nations oppressing nations. We also know that God hates oppression and that He protects those vulnerable to oppression.
“And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:9-10
“Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders.” Deuteronomy 26:7-8
“He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.” Psalm 72:13-14
“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Psalm 103:6
“I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine. Then all flesh shall know that I am the Lord your Savior, and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” Isaiah 49:26
We know that God hates oppression. And we know that because Christ has come, we live in a world of victory. The Savior has conquered sin and death. And He has claimed the earth as His own (Hebrews 10:12-13).
So why does oppression continue to exist in our world?
First, we’ve failed to identify the reason for oppression. And second, we’ve failed to fight it per God’s instructions.
The reason for oppression
According to one dictionary, the definition of oppression is: “the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner.”
But it’s not enough to simply define oppression. We need to understand WHY oppression happens.
When we look at cases of oppression, we find it is usually the result of people shifting their problems on others or taking advantage of others for their own gain. A well-known example would be Hitler’s blaming the Jews for Germany’s economic problems.
Oppressors abuse their power to act unjustly against the innocent.
“Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.” Psalm 73:7-9
“But you have eyes and heart only for your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence.” Jeremiah 22:17
And who are the targets of oppression? The vulnerable, those who have limited ability to protect themselves. This also includes those who are obvious targets for blame (distinctive appearance or socioeconomic status).
It’s clear then that where we place the blame for our problems matters. If we can lay blame at the foot of someone else, we don’t have to deal with the problem anymore. In almost every other culture, blameshifting is part of everyday life. Sometimes, it is even praised as a skill. However, as Christians, blameshifting is not an option. When Jesus took responsibility for our sin, He also gave us the ability to take back responsibility for the growth and cultivation of the world – “Go and disciple the nations.”
As sinners saved by grace, we have not only the ability but also the responsibility to face our sins and not oppress others because of them.
The cycle of oppression
This leads to the second problem we face: how we resolve the matter of oppression. If you look at oppression throughout history, there is a cyclical pattern. And this makes sense. If oppression happens because of blameshifting, then when we shift the problem of oppression onto others, we simply create more oppression.
So, where does the cycle start? Let’s begin with some of the groups that God repeatedly points to as being most vulnerable – widows, orphans, and strangers.
Oppression of the fatherless and widow
“You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.” Exodus 22:22
“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 10:18
The widow and her fatherless children are vulnerable members of any society, even our 21st century, first-world society. Here are a few facts to illustrate this:
Single mothers are much more likely to be poor than married couples. The poverty rate for single-mother families in 2018 was 34%, nearly five times more than the rate (6%) for married-couple families.
Among children living with mother only, 40% lived in poverty. In contrast, only 12% of children in two parent families were counted as poor.
Almost one third (27.8%) of single mother families were “food insecure,” about one-ninth (11.7%) used food pantries, one third spent more than half their income on housing, which is generally considered the threshold for “severe housing cost burden.”
Among all homeless families nationwide, about two thirds (60%) were headed by single women with children — representing 21% of the total homeless population; nearly half were African Americans (49%).
Single mothers often spend over half of their income on housing expenses and a third on child care, leaving them with less money for educational expenses.
Because of their vulnerabilities (the need to provide for their children, lack of community, etc.), single mothers are easy targets for criminals, including sex traffickers. In the case of Rebecca Bender, her trafficker threatened the safety of her child to keep Rebecca out on the streets.
Perhaps you are thinking, “but not all single moms are widows, many of them have chosen to remain unmarried” or “well, it wouldn’t be a problem if women were given the same advantages as men” … then let’s remember the point of this discussion. If the problem lies elsewhere, then we don’t have to do anything about it. Blameshifting is a passive form of oppression. We’re “taking advantage” of others to get out of something we don’t want to take responsibility for. It doesn’t take long for our passivity to become someone else’s excuse for active oppression.
Oppression of the stranger
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34
Based on its uses in Scripture, we can view a “stranger” as anyone who is different from us – culturally, ethnically, racially, socio-economically, etc. On a national level, the stranger is someone who is not a citizen of our country. But on an individual level, the “stranger” might be someone living in our community, on our street, or even next door to us.
The stranger is vulnerable because of their differences. They may stand out. They may not speak the same language. They may have different priorities.
If we fail to love the stranger as ourselves, it’s not hard to let them take the blame when problems arise. We’ve all seen it. Something goes missing in the office, and the “weird” coworker gets blamed. Bad things happen in the neighborhood, and rumors go around about the strange new family that moved in.
Historically, this has happened on national levels as well. While the examples are endless, this one reveals a lot of what we need to know about those that occurred after it.
One example of oppression
“Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There exists a scattered people dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from all others, and they are not complying with the king’s laws, so there may not be a suitable reason for the king to allow them to exist. If it pleases the king, may it be written that they are to be destroyed, and may there be ten thousand talents of silver deposited into the king’s treasuries so that I may distribute it to the hands of those doing the work.'” Esther 3:8-9
Then “letters were sent by mounted couriers into all the king’s provinces to cause the destruction, slaughter, and annihilation of all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and even to plunder their possessions.” Esther 3:13
So what was the reason for the annihilation of the Jews? Haman tells the king it is because “their laws are different from others,” but God reveals what was in Haman’s heart a few verses earlier:
“When Haman saw that Mordecai neither bowed nor paid him homage, he was filled with rage. But he disdained to lay hands on only Mordecai, since they had told him of the people of Mordecai. So Haman sought to destroy all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.”
It wasn’t enough for Haman to attack Mordecai alone. Instead, he targeted Mordecai’s people, who were strangers in the land, and convinced the king to sanction mass oppression (annihilation). Not only would the Jews serve as the scapegoats for the nation’s problems, Haman (and those who participated in their slaughter) would also gain from their destruction.
Our failure to end oppression
History and current events reveal the ongoing oppression of the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger, but what has been our response? Have we followed God’s command to care for them?
No. Instead, we’ve shifted responsibility to the government. There are over 80 government-subsidized organizations caring for the widow, fatherless, and stranger.
By putting these organizations in charge of stemming oppression, we’ve bred more oppression. Collectively, as a society, we have made police, government employees, courts, social workers, etc., our heroes, even saviors, to take away our problems, so we don’t have to deal with them ourselves. Furthermore, we’ve put them in charge of the vulnerable in our communities instead of taking that responsibility on ourselves.
Now, those entities are free to oppress (to blame the problems of society on) other groups of people, all in the name of protecting and serving us.
“Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.” Ecclesiastes 4:1
By neglecting the vulnerable in our societies, we’ve continued the cycle of oppression: us and no one else.
How do we end it?
As long as we neglect the fatherless, the widow, and the stranger, we will continue to find oppression in our midst. Oppression must end with us. So, where do we begin?
First, we need to realize the severity of our negligence. Our passivity has bred oppression. And for that, God holds us accountable.
“Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, ‘Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern.'” Isaiah 30:12-14
Instead of shifting blame or responsibility, we need to repent for our negligence. We need to repent for the oppression we’ve allowed and the oppression we’ve caused.
Hope in God’s promise
If our hearts are heavy with guilt for the oppression around us, we may be overwhelmed by the enormity of the consequences. But we don’t need to sit under its burden. Because we have been renewed in the image of Christ, we have assurance of God’s forgiveness and His promises.
“All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you.” Isaiah 54:13-14
It’s hard to imagine a world like the one described in these verses. But it’s one that has been promised by God. We can come to Him as children and plead with Him to keep His Word. He has promised peace for our children, a world where oppression is far from them. Only He can fulfill that promise.
Start in our own community
But how will His promise be fulfilled? Through the obedience of His people.
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:16-17
As we walk in His Word (i.e., walk in righteousness), we can rest assured that “in righteousness [we] will be established.” Righteousness begins in our families – loving our children and not provoking them to anger, teaching them to love justice, and leading by word and deed in the care of the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger. This then spreads righteousness into our communities, our counties, our nation, and eventually, the whole world.
What we are able to do right now may seem small and even insignificant, but let’s not forget that we believe in a God who loves to multiply our “loaves” and extend our supply of “oil.”
“He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much.” Luke 16:10
What can you do today to help the fatherless, the widow, or the stranger?