His [the wicked] mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression; under his tongue is mischief and wickedness. He sits in the lurking places of the villages; in the hiding places he kills the innocent; his eyes stealthily watch for the poor. He lurks in a hiding place as a lion in his lair; he lurks to catch the afflicted; he catches the afflicted when he draws him into his net…He says to himself, “God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it, Psalm 10:7-9, 11.
The Psalm begins with, Why do You stand afar off, O Yahweh? Why do You hide yourself in times of trouble? The Psalm ends with, O Yahweh, You have heard the desire of the afflicted; You will strengthen their heart, You will incline Your ear to vindicate the orphan and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth will oppress no more. The Psalm begins with plea to God in the form of a question, it ends with an answer from God in the form of an affirmation; but in between is the apparent ascendance of the wicked and the oppression of the poor and afflicted – man oppressing man.
Where is the righteous intercessor in this Psalm? That is, where is the defender of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed? Ultimately God is the defender, but where are His agents in Psalm 10? More importantly, where are His agents today? Most importantly, are we His agents?
Oppression takes myriad forms and the closer we are to the nucleus of the forms the harder they are to identify. Members of an ascendant racial or ethnic group usually find it difficult to view conflict with another racial or ethnic group as oppression, they are more prone to view it as a natural state of affairs, as a higher culture improving a lower culture, as one group protecting the other, or even as “manifest destiny”. The fact that our own nation has its own Psalm 10 in a racial context ought to give us pause: How could professed “Christians” countenance the genocide of Indians and the slavery of Africans? If we could be that blind for most of our nation’s history (let’s not forget that lynchings occurred well into the 20th Century and that Jim Crow lived into the 70s) what are we blinded to today? (I can also argue that we have not repented of our genocide of Indians, otherwise we could not bear the living conditions many of them endure today – we would do something about it.)
On the economic front, I often read the credit card solicitations I receive to see the predatory practices of our nation’s banks – interest rates of 30% when the Federal Discount Rate is virtually 0%, penalties that are guaranteed to bury the borrower in a grave of debt from which he can never escape; many of the people who receive and respond to these solicitations do not read the small tiny print, nor do all the ones who read it understand it – to the banks it is a numbers game, it is just business as usual – many of these banks are supported by taxpayers (remember the bailouts?) and all of them are regulated (or not!) by our democratic government. But those of us who are close to the nucleus – those who can pay their own way – do not see this because it doesn’t affect us.
Our fellow citizens and their children go to bed hungry; and it is not because they are lazy, it is because they cannot make a living wage, because they cannot find a job; it is because we have walled off the poor – whether urban or rural – not only from the rest of society, but from our churches as well; the one place that should be a model of community is instead a model of racial, economic, and social segregation. Perhaps churches are more afraid of relational integration than our broader society because integration in churches would mean deep mutual give-and-take and a surrender of many preferences and traditions that have nothing to do with the Gospel. We might have to discover who we really are as the people of God and no longer define ourselves racially or ethnically or economically.
Money is the idol and arbiter of America and the American church, decisions are reduced to economics and justified by economics. It is not for nothing that Paul writes that the love of money is the root of all evil – we have been seduced and intoxicated by the dollar. The focus of the recently concluded presidential campaign was money, America’s greatness was defined as money, moral issues such as healthcare were often framed by money; and yet the Bible portrays God as being concerned about the poor and fatherless, about the widow and disenfranchised, and holding governments and peoples to account for oppression – whatever form oppression may take. Any pretence to a moral vision which America may have had in the past is long gone and not likely to return for it does not benefit our immediate self-interest.
I do not write as a detached observer for my work takes me into areas where the economically and educationally enfranchised of our region do not go. I see predatory business practices in neighborhoods such as payday loan sharks, I see unsuspecting students caught in the tuitional web of for-profit training schools that promise education and jobs but often deliver only debt – and never once provide educational counseling to the prospective student. How do I know? I ask. To those critics who think others lazy, you need only look at the rolls of for-profit organizations that portray themselves as “institutes” or “colleges” and note the many inner-city students caught in the web of debt. How do I know? I review credit reports.
But this is a blog post and I need to conclude; here is what really scares me about the absence of a defender and advocate in Psalm 10 – I am not there, I do not see myself. O God help me to make a difference, help me to do what I can today.