Learn to do good.
Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows. - Isaiah 1:17
There is an entire community of people around you right now who stand on the edge of collapse. A rent check away from being homeless. A can of soup away from going hungry. A needle away from overdosing.
For many years, my attitude toward such knowledge was that if people stopped making destructive choices with their lives, they could avoid all that unpleasantness. Firm in my “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” conviction, I motored on with life, whining all the while about the people who refused to help themselves.
Then I looked around my city. I took to the streets one night to read the Bible with street people. I showed up with a small team of church people to the soup kitchen and served meals to this vulnerable sector of the population. I saw the degree of the problem for the first time.
I began parenting three adult children who all struggle with mental health problems. I could see that when they weren’t getting up to go to work that there was a lot more going on there than laziness. I could see that telling a person dealing with depression to just push past the pain was a clueless bit of advice.
Then I started reading my Bible. I went over passages I had known all my life. Passages much like the one above. I began reading Luke 4:16-21, where Jesus talks about proclaiming good news for the poor and oppressed. I read James 1:27 where it says that pure and undefiled religion is caring for the widows and orphans.
Did many of these people fall on difficult times because of poor decisions they made in the past? Sure. Did some of these people fall into darkness because of poor choices made by other people, making them complete victims? Sure.
What they share in common is that they no longer know the way out. The combined burden of mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, poverty, and past trauma has made them into a compromised, vulnerable population.
And so, if you are a Christian (and well, even if you are not), here is the part you need to hear. If your heart and mind is that these people dug their own grave and the rest of society is not responsible for their own bad mistakes, then I ask you to wake up. I implore you to find the part of your heart that has not grown cold and hard and nurture it.
The thing with doing good that we forget is that you must learn how to do it (see verse above). Justice has to be sought because it has been hidden. The oppressed need our help because they do not have the ability to help themselves. The cause of orphans and the rights of widows need defending because they are under attack.
By the enemy of this world. Yes, he is out there and very real. All one need do is look at the state of our world and all the injustice, division, hatred, and brokenness to conclude that there is an enemy at work.
So, this winter season, let’s start asking the question we all asked in the past: “How am I reaching out?” Everyone’s answer will likely be a bit different, but at least the conversation will have started up again.