As I have thought a lot about the poor and oppressed over the last several months, I have been challenged to think about the lens through which I understand theology and the Bible. I have been challenged to realize that I am a white, middle-class American, and that I read the Bible through white, middle-class, American eyes.
As a seminary student who is required to take several classes in Systematic Theology, I have had a chance to think through how my station in life affects my understanding of our faith. I have always heard of liberation theology and sort of passed it off as a little radical and misguided--too focused on political freedom. Some wise teachers and authors, however, have helped me to see that I have the luxury of seeing it that way. I can get away with having a theology that has nothing to do with political freedom in the here and now, because I am not oppressed. I don't really need the aspect of God as Deliverer right now, because I am not being crushed under the weight of actual, human oppression.
For most Americans, then, the foundation exists for a theology in which the enemy is understood primarily as spiritual. Our theology accomodates an understanding of the fight against oppression as some sort of cosmic reality. David cries out for rescue from his enemies, and it speaks to us in the battles we face against spiritual oppression, against the pull toward sin and wickedness. The Bible offers the promise that the righteous will not go hungry, and we feel assured that our spiritual hunger will not go unsatisfied. These are legitimate, important understandings of truth.
Yet these understandings are limited, as well. The truly oppressed and hungry are not afforded the a luxury of such a one-sided understanding. They have enemies who are flesh and bone, whose bullets are peircing the bodies of their children. Their spiritual hunger is accompanied by woefully undernourished bodies. A God who is not a Deliverer in the here and now seems irrelevant to them. Surely, God cares about their plight. Surely he is one who desires freedom for his people--not just in some cosmic sense, and not just on some distant day when we see him face to face. If he is who he says he is, then he must care about the literal orphan and widow, the literal alien and slave.
Am I now a hard-core proponent of liberation theology? No, but I'm thinking it over a little more. I'm trying to step back and ask how the words of Scripture I read might sound to a hungry child in an African refugee camp, robbed of her home and security. Psalm 10 today provided a perfect example:
"Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself, "He won't call me to account"?
But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and evil man;
call him to account for his wickedness
that would not be found out.
...You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
in order that man, who is of the earth,
may terrify no more."
I challenge you to take some time and read the Word through new eyes. Try to think about God's workings in the world from a perspective that is a little foreign to you. It has been hugely challenging for me. In the end, perhaps such a practice will open our eyes to a God who is much, much bigger than our American eyes have ever seen.