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“I Saw All The Oppressions”
Once a Week
This Wednesday at the General Assembly for my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, the committee of men and women who wrote the Report on Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault delivered a moving series of messages regarding their report. As I have been digesting those messages and reflecting on that report, one thing I am most thankful for is their thorough biblical and theological study of the nature of abuse.
The Report states that the most common biblical term for abuse is “oppression”. If you read straight through the 116 occurrences of “oppression” in the ESV, one theme that quickly emerges is differing degrees of power between those who oppress and those who are oppressed. Zechariah 7:10 is just one of dozens of examples: “do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”
While it is possible to oppress or abuse those with equal power, Scripture teaches us that it most commonly occurs where power is unequally distributed, whether between individuals (e.g an Israelite land-owner and his poor hired worker, Deut. 24:14) or between groups (e.g Israel and Egypt, Deut. 26:6-7). Given that those who are most frequently described as victims of oppression are the poor, needy, sojourner, fatherless, widow, hungry, prisoner, and servant/worker, it is unsurprising that those who are usually condemned for sins of oppression are those in power: enemy nations, princes, prophets, priests, kings, and the rich.
What does this mean for those seeking to care for the abused and oppressed? All abuse is a misuse of power, using power to harm instead of bless. And every sinful human is capable of abusing power, and anyone is a potential victim of oppression. But we should expect to see it, learn to see it, be on the look out for it most among those with less power, the vulnerable, the least of these.
Quote from Elie Wiesel‘s Nobel Prize Speech
I swore never to be silent whenever wherever [sic] human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
Rather than recommending books this week, I highly recommend you watch the messages from the DASA Committee. You can watch it here, starting at minute 21:00 - 1:15:50. While some material is specific to the PCA, on the whole their messages are biblical, inspiring, and relevant for all.
The author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “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” (4:1). How can we challenge ourselves to “see all the oppressions” that we’d often rather not see? Who are the vulnerable in our communities that need extra protection, care, healing and justice? I would love to connect personally if you are interested in discussing this important matter, you can email me at email@example.com.
Praying for and laboring with you,