I was raised well. My parents taught me by example to treat every person with the God-given respect and dignity they deserve. This was to be shown regardless of the person’s age, gender, race or religious background.
I did not always successfully follow my parents’ wise counsel and example. When my next-door friend’s mother used to point out that my behaviour was not appropriate, I’m told that I could get quite lippy with her. I remember being disciplined regularly for talking back and for making comments about the Catholic kids. Even in Bible college I was disciplined for my “cavalier” attitude. Somehow, through all of this, I did eventually learn the lesson that my parents and teachers had tried to instil in me. God created my family, my neighbours, the strangers I meet, and even my enemies, in His image. That gives them dignity. I must be guided by that truth in all my relationships.
This divinely determined intrinsic value of all humanity and the unprejudiced nature of God’s justice and mercy are rooted in His character. This just and merciful God calls and enables us to be in right relationship with Him and with one another. He makes this possible through His redemptive actions, culminating in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. What the Father has done through His Son is made available universally; it is for all who will respond to His invitation. God’s redemptive plan involves a transformed people empowered by the Spirit to be His salt and light until the final redemption of all things.
So here’s a question: If our ethical system is rooted in a biblical conviction of the intrinsic value of every human being and a biblical understanding that everyone is invited to be in right relationship with God, why does God demand preferential treatment for certain groups of people? For example, God clearly puts a distinct focus on “the least of these”—the poor, the hungry, the widow and orphan, the displaced and oppressed, the foreigner and the imprisoned. This may seem unjust, but in reality it stems directly from God’s nature. God’s justice and mercy are seen working consistently in tandem. God is no respecter of persons. His justice demands a level playing field for all people.
Our vision of a just system of law is captured by the image of a blindfolded judge holding a set of scales. The tilt of the scales determines if someone is being treated equitably or not. In reality, true justice often does not prevail. Human selfishness and brokenness result in the scales being regularly and tragically tilted. Those with power oppress others in unrighteous ways through legal, economic and political means. The random circumstances of where a person is born, if they have a disease or impairment, or a person’s lack of economic opportunity, ethnicity or societal standing leave many people on the wrong side of the tilted scales of justice. Sadly, even the oppressed can become oppressors.
God’s call to provide preferential attention to these groups of people is to ensure that impartial justice will once again reign. We hear this clear call in passages such as Isaiah 58:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:6-10).
God’s call for impartial justice and preferential care for the vulnerable is heard with clarity in Jesus’ teaching throughout the Gospels. The poor, the persecuted, and those in mourning are blessed (Matthew 5:3-12). Ministry provided for “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” is commended, and failure to do so is harshly condemned (Matthew 25:31-46).
God calls those who consider themselves to be His people to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). Being in right relationship with God requires us to be in right relationship with others and to express His impartial love and justice to those who have not experienced them. The fact that all lives have value demands that we act on behalf of those who need preferential attention. We bring the good news of Christ’s redemption. We overcome evil with good. We advocate for those whose voice is muted and reject all forms of injustice.
"The fact that all lives have value demands that we act on behalf of those who need preferential attention."
Let’s pray: Lord of mercy and justice, transform us through Christ into loving, merciful ministers of reconciliation. Help us to continually demonstrate Your impartiality toward all people. We long for the final day. Even so, Lord Jesus, come! Amen.
This article was written by David Wells, the general superintendent of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. This article appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. ©2016 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Visit www.testimonymag.ca.