Give us counsel and make a decision. Shelter us at noonday with shade that is as dark as night. Hide the refugees; do not betray the one who flees. Let my refugees stay with you;
be a refuge for Moab from the aggressor. (Isaiah 16:3-4a)
This seems straightforward to me. I know it was written about a specific situation, but I think when we use the cultural context of Scripture to excuse ourselves from helping people, we’re wrong. We don’t honor God or His Word with that kind of dismissive attitude.
I don’t know how to solve the refugee crises around the world right now. But the problem isn’t new. What’s new is being able to argue about it online in real time, to voice each of our opinions with fears, quick answers, and detachment. As if we’re all authorities who completely understand the core issues and can foresee all the implications of what someone else suggests.
What I know is when we dehumanize others, we dehumanize ourselves.
Our lack of compassion and empathy says more about ourselves than any “issue” we might be addressing. And by issue, I mean people’s lives.
It has risks, but so does getting out of bed every morning. If we’re not willing to live bold lives, what are our lives actually worth? Who wants to simply pass time, or waste it on social media, every day?
Risks mean we might get hurt. So might others.
Oh, wait. They already are.
People need help.
Again, I observed all the acts of oppression being done under the sun.Look at the tears of those who are oppressed; they have no one to comfort them. Power is with those who oppress them; they have no one to comfort them. (Ecclesiastes 4:1)
I feel this way sometimes, glimpsing oppression around the world today. I don’t see it all. It would be too overwhelming if I could. I feel anger, compassion, and justice swell within me.
Young girls being sexually exploited, fathers separated from their families to work for wages that only keep them trapped, mothers who are taken advantage of when their only goal is to care for their children. People, treated like objects, a means to an end.
Solomon declared there is no one to comfort them. And when I think of the oppressed in situations where they are isolated, I wonder where they might get comfort. What they believe as comfort isn’t the same as what you and I would see as comfort.
We cannot fix all the ills of the world, but we can do something. We can refuse to be silent. We can pray. We can keep our eyes open for warning signs. We can refuse to believe we can swoop in and save everyone, but we can persistently find ways that will truly help in the long run. We can be patient but refuse to be passive. We can get informed.
We can see, and we can notice, and all of our efforts together may just count as a balm of comfort.
Jesus wept. (John 11:35)
His friend Lazarus had died. Jesus wasn’t caught off guard. His emotions weren’t out of control. He simply wept. He felt. He expressed those feelings.
And so did the people around him after he wept. They certainly had a variety of responses:
- The Jews said, “See how He loved him!” (John 11:36)
- Some of them said, “Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37)
- Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, he’s already decaying. It’s been four days.” (John 11:39, following Jesus commanding the stone of the tomb be removed)
We respond differently to situations, as well as to the way others respond to those same situations. We declare people are too sensitive or justified. We’re surprised by how well or poorly we think they’re handling something. We have our own emotions to sift through, and our emotions affect our response to others’ emotions.
Be careful. Emotions are great companions but terrible leaders. They enhance life, but they don’t run life. Don’t give them the power and control they don’t deserve, either in your own life or your assessment of others.
It’s that time of year when many families come together and laugh and smile and make memories and post all their best moments on social media to share with the world and be affirmed with comments about how adorable and wonderful and amazing their family is!
And behind those snapshot moments are struggles, conflicts, unhealed hurts, and wishes that things would be better, not just in the family but in life.
Admitting we have struggles, conflicts, and hurts doesn’t mean we’re miserable. It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the holidays with family. It simply means we admit that everything isn’t perfect, that there’s opportunity to grow. It means we don’t wallow in how things could be so much better “if only.” We’re willing to be patient, honest, gracious, and humble. We don’t wait until someone else changes before we’re willing to go the next step. We choose to change despite what someone else chooses. After all, we all have a different perspective of the truth of a situation. And most likely, we’re all a little right and a little wrong.
So this holiday season, even today, take a deep breath and resolve to be humble enough to consider someone else’s perspective. Extend some grace. Show compassion. Be authentic with discernment. Take a small step in the right direction. Refuse to expect everything to change and be healed at once. Allow others to grow, and take responsibility for your own growth.
Let go of what needs to go, and hang onto what’s truly important.
Only God can be fully forgiving, compassionate, and cleansing. Only He is blameless. He desires our integrity. He restores us. When we trust His authority and claim His character and promises, then we are able to receive His fullness.
The first step is an honest plea:
Be gracious to me, God, according to Your faithful love; according to Your abundant compassion, blot out my rebellion. Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. For I am conscious of my rebellion, and my sin is always before me. Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge. Indeed, I was guilty when I was born; I was sinful when my mother conceived me. Surely You desire integrity in the inner self, and You teach me wisdom deep within. Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones You have crushed rejoice. Turn Your face away from my sins and blot out all my guilt. God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit. Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You. (Psalm 51:1-13)
He does not forget the cry of the afflicted. (Psalm 9:12b)
It seems like God forgets the cries of the afflicted sometimes, or maybe that He just ignores them. But that’s our own perspective. When we don’t like His response time, we decide to project what we believe His decision and process must be.
We’re often wrong.
We can trust and believe Him, no matter what. Even when we don’t understand, when we don’t like a situation, when we feel overlooked. God is still God. He is still powerful enough, compassionate enough, just enough, and patient enough.
“Enough” is more our issue than His.
“So now, may my Lord’s power be magnified just as You have spoken: The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation. Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love, just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:17-19)
We get reassurance from the promise that God “will not leave the guilty unpunished,” and we apply it to the “them” in our lives, often a “them” we categorize and distance ourselves from. It’s easier to make accusations from a distance. When we get close, we realize just how human people are. We see that we have much in common with “them.” Really, there is little difference between us and them. We are guilty, too.
We sometimes focus so much on the promise to punish the guilty that we forget the context of this promise, which also includes the reminder of God’s character of being slow to anger and rich in faithful love. Yes, God is just as much those things to “them” as He is just. He is just as much those things to “us” as He is just.
Also in these verses is a humble plea for God to pardon “their” wrongdoing, asking for forgiveness for “them.” It’s not a blaming, condemning plea. It’s not an assault on “them.” It’s a plea to God. There is no finger-pointing, declaring that YOU need God’s forgiveness. It’s having such compassion, gentleness, and mercy on people that we go to God on their behalf first and foremost, continually and confidently. We tear down the wall between us and them so that we stand and speak on their behalf.