Monday, August 15, 2016

HOW GOD VIEWS JUSTICE

HOW GOD VIEWS JUSTICE
©Wendell Griffen, 2016
August 14, 2016 (Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost)
New Millennium Church
Little Rock, AR

Psalm 82
A Psalm of Asaph.
1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
   in the midst of the gods he holds judgement:
2 ‘How long will you judge unjustly
   and show partiality to the wicked?
          Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
   maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
   deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’
 

5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
   they walk around in darkness;
   all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 

6 I say, ‘You are gods,
   children of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,
   and fall like any prince.’
* 

8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth;
   for all the nations belong to you!

         Psalm 82 is attributed to a person named Asaph, a Levite who established a guild of Temple singers, and appears in a collection of psalms that begins with Psalm 73.  In this Psalm, Asaph envisions a heavenly trial—a “divine council”—of important beings.  God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment (Ps. 82:1). 

The defendants are subordinate deities to God—“lesser gods” if you will.  These less powerful members of the divine order are charged with judicial misconduct.  How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? (Ps. 82:2).  

We don’t know what the word “Selah” means.  This Hebrew term appears only in Psalms and in Habakkuk 3, and separates passages within a psalm.  I have come to think of “Selah” as similar to a punctuation mark.  “Selah” punctuates a psalm.  “Selah” instructs psalm readers and singers to pause a bit, allow a thought to sink in, and give ourselves time to ponder it.

So let’s ponder Asaph’s vision of divine beings on trial and charged with favoritism.  They are charged with being partial “to the wicked.”  In Psalm 82, Asaph envisions that favoring the wicked works to oppress people who are vulnerable, and declares that doing so amounts to judicial malpractice! 

In this vision, the Psalmist imagines there is no escape from the moral gaze of God even for what the elders of my youth would call “big shots.”  “Lesser gods” can’t get away with violating divine justice. 

The divine standard for righteous judgment is clear.  Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked (Ps. 82:3-4). 

Those in power have a moral obligation to protect vulnerable people from oppression.  Protecting weak, orphaned, poor, and otherwise vulnerable people from oppression by the powerful is not a matter of political correctness.  This is not a partisan political position.  The duty to protect weak, orphaned, poor, and otherwise vulnerable people from oppression is about morality!  It is a question of right and wrong!

It is not right when judges allow vulnerable people to be mistreated by the powerful.

It is not right for judges and other rulers to favor the wealthy.

It is not right for judges and politicians to manufacture ways to save corporations and investment bankers from bankruptcy by extending lenient payment arrangements and forgiving debts, yet refuse to write off debts and show leniency to homeowners who are “upside down” on their mortgages and people saddled with debt from student loans.

It is not right for judges, prosecutors, and other politicians to allow police to violate the rights and threaten the lives and mental health of people who are poor, people who are black, brown, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and immigrants.

It is not right for the powerful rulers—lesser gods if you will—to treat the vulnerable status of children, people who suffer from mental illness, and people who are women as an excuse to pay them less than what other workers are paid.

It is not right for rulers to favor employers over workers. 

It is not right for rulers to give drug companies a moral license to jack up the cost of life-saving drugs so that poor people suffer and die in disproportionate numbers.

According to Asaph’s notion of divine justice, any system of justice that shows partiality to the wicked and oppresses the vulnerable is morally indefensible and illegitimate, no matter how politically popular or powerful it may appear to be.  Justice is not about political correctness.  Justice is about divine and moral accountability!

The “Selah” in Psalm 82 calls us to ponder what happens when politicians, judges, and other “lesser god” entities show favoritism to the “wicked” and uphold oppression of people who are poor, needy, orphaned, and otherwise vulnerable.  We know what happens to the vulnerable when that happens.

We know because we remember how unarmed Michael Brown Jr., “Mike-Mike” to the youth and elders who lived in his Ferguson, Missouri neighborhood, was shot to death August 9, 2014 by Darrin Wilson, someone who had a sworn duty to protect his life. 

We know because we remember how Mike-Mike’s dead body lay uncovered in the middle of the street where he died for almost five hours in 90 degree heat two years ago.

We know because we remember how the prosecutors turned what supposed to be a grand jury investigation into whether Mike Brown’s death was a crime into an opportunity for the police officer who killed Brown to use cultural incompetence and racism as an excuse for killing him.

We know what happens to vulnerable people when the rulers favor the wicked. 

Eric Garner’s killer gets off without being charged with choking him to death.

Mike Brown’s killer gets off without being charged with shooting him to death.

Freddie Gray’s killers get off without being found guilty of breaking his neck.

Eugene Ellison’s killers get off without being charged with shooting him to death. 

Homeowners are forced into bankruptcy while mortgage companies get government bailouts.

What Psalm 82 reminds us, however, is that God holds the “lesser god” rulers accountable who favor the wicked and allow the wicked to oppress people who are vulnerable.  Psalm 82 speaks of divine judgment on “lesser god” rulers who favor the wicked.   The Psalm ends with a prayer that calls on God to “rise up” and “judge the earth, “for all the nations belong to you.”  (Ps. 82:8)

The lesson of Psalm 82 is straightforward.  Unjust rulers will fall!  They will fall because they operate from a morally unstable position.  Systems of injustice and the people who operate them are doomed to the judgment of God who will not show favoritism and who will not be bribed, bought, or bullied.

         That lesson also presents a challenge to the rest of us.  We must choose whether we will defend systems of injustice and the people who operate them to oppress the vulnerable or whether we will join God in condemning and overthrowing them.  Are we propping up systems of oppression or helping God tear them down and replace them?  

         Are we standing with God and condemning systems of injustice and the “lesser gods” who operate them?

Are we standing with and making excuses for the perpetrators and enablers of systemic injustice?

Are we standing with the vulnerable against the wicked?

Are we standing with victims against their violators?

Are we standing with oppressed people against their oppressors?

Are we standing with working people against wealthy wickedness?

Are we denouncing those who call on vulnerable people to keep silent about their oppression?

Psalm 82 carries a solemn warning to anyone who will not stand with God against the systems and rulers who oppress the vulnerable and reward the wicked.  At verses 6 and 7 we read the divine sentence on the “lesser gods” that committed judicial malpractice.  I say, “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince. 

God will overthrow the “lesser gods” who favor the wicked and powerful over the vulnerable.  Let us help God do so, not prop up the wicked. 


Amen.

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