I couldn’t escape. There was no exit.
I longed to crawl into a pitch-black cave between chemotherapy sessions while GOP Senate leaders repeatedly hurled their proposals to cut off my Medicaid. I was all brawl at first, but I felt flattened as the dystopic proposals snaked their way through the House and onto the Senate floor, with nary a hearing allowed. I was but one person – and a skinhead weakling at that, helpless before the onslaught.
So why not silence the clamor by pretending it doesn’t exist? It’s as easy as shutting off the television and skipping past newspaper headlines. I could even evade all those biblical books dwelling on God’s love for the oppressed. Flee to that strictly spiritual Old Testament collection of Israel’s temple hymns: The Psalms. They’re just a compendium of prayers. Park yourself there in your morning devotions while writing your own funeral service. You’re safe.
Think again. The phrases blow in like tumble weeds: “Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble” (Psalm 41:1); “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4); “It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice … They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor” (112:5,9).
Apparently, love for God and the oppressed comes as tethered as a glued, Gordian knot. I can’t hide from that dual reality even in my holy cave. Nor can Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and all those other Republicans claiming they represent the more “Christian” of our two political parties. The Bible, they say, is God’s book. So why are they ignoring all the passages on God’s love for the sick, the poor, and the oppressed? How can they favor the wealthy in the face of James 5:1-2: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes”?
The usual response: “The faithful can do the do-gooder stuff. That’s not government work.”
The Bible sees no such dichotomy. Read Isaiah 10:1-2: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”
Such sentiment made its way into Israel’s hymn book. Look up Psalm 72. Its author begged God to “endow the king with your justice … May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice” (verses 1-2). Israel’s government was called to “defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy” and “crush the oppressor” (verse 4). The king “will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight” (verses 11-14).
Again, there’s a traditional reply: “This was a call to Israel’s theocratic king. It doesn’t apply to other nations.”
Which is ironic. Some are happy to legislate biblically-informed abortion and sexual regulations while they scurry from those passages on the poor – even though the Bible mandates compassion on non-Israelite leaders. Hear the plea to a notorious Babylonian tyrant in Daniel 4:27: “Therefore, your majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.”
The verses keep coming. There’s Psalm 10:17-18 (“… you hear the desire of the afflicted …”); and Psalm 113:15-18 (“… He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap …”); and the stark warning of Psalm 94:20-22: “Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. But the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge.”
But perhaps the most poignant – and relevant at this hour – is Psalm 146. There’s deep devotion: the poet praises God with his entire being; he promises life-long praise; he refuses to place his ultimate trust in princes (no idolization of political parties here); he’ll hope in the one “who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever …”
But we’re caught. Right there – just at that high point in which we’re enraptured in eternity – God is described as the one who “keeps faith forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.” The sojourner, the widow, and the fatherless fall under his protection (see verses 6-12).
We’re suddenly back on the Earth, mingling with society’s ragged throwaways. There’s no pitch-black cave, no retreat. I cannot flee from the battle to protect the oppressed -- despite my mental and physical exhaustion – nor can any political faction claiming reverence for Judaism’s and Christianity’s Scriptures.
Perhaps GOP leaders should consider that before they make other attempts to cut me and others from our lifelines.