God’s redemptive love for orphans, widows and outsidersWritten by Subby Szterszky
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It’s impossible to read through Scripture without observing God’s fierce and abiding concern for orphans, widows and outsiders. Over and over, he commands his people to grant justice and mercy to such individuals, and to show them love in practical ways. God promises that those who obey these commands will receive his blessings, while those who disregard them will bring his judgment on themselves.
Why does God care so deeply about the plight of people who find themselves in these dire circumstances? The simple answer is that it reflects his own loving and just character.
However, there’s more to it than that, for reasons that are both physical and spiritual. For those of us who follow Jesus and desire to be more like our heavenly Father, it’s good to pause and meditate on some of those reasons.
Being daughters and sons of God
God’s kindness and compassion are essential to his nature. Since we humans are created in the image of God, he expects us to reflect that nature, limited and imperfect though we are as fallen beings. For those of us who’ve been given a new nature in Christ, this expectation applies twice over. God wants us to reflect his character, both because he made us and because he redeemed us.
In the Old Testament Law, God punctuated virtually all of his commands to his people with “I am the Lord” or “I am the Lord who rescued you from slavery in Egypt.” The bottom line for why the Lord commanded them to obey was so that they’d be more like him, the God who made them and redeemed them.
Jesus and the apostles reinforced this principle in the New Testament. Peter, quoting from Leviticus, repeated God’s injunction to “be holy because I am holy.” Along the same lines, Jesus commanded his followers to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The Lord explained that by being gracious and merciful, we demonstrate that we’re his followers and that we’re true daughters and sons of God.
Alleviating the effects of the Fall
The original sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, plunged the world into suffering and death. Like a priceless shattered vase, God’s perfect creation was broken along a multitude of cracks: natural disasters, disease, violence, cruelty, injustice, and on and on. As C.S. Lewis observed, “Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
Thankfully, human history is also the long story of God redeeming his broken world. This redemption was secured by Jesus on the Cross and will be completed at the end of this age, in the New Heaven and New Earth. As with the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which valuable broken pottery is repaired with seams of gold, God’s redeemed creation will be all the more beautiful for once having been broken.
In the meantime, God calls his people to alleviate the effects of the Fall, wherever and however we can. Our world is overrun with expressions of cruelty and injustice, most often perpetrated by those with power against those with little or none. In the ancient world, women, children, foreigners, slaves and the poor had few rights and fewer protections in life. This was especially true of widows, orphans and others who lived on the fringes of society. God’s call to respect and provide for such individuals would have been radical beyond belief for the surrounding cultures of that day.
That divine call remains in effect today because the same needs remain in effect. Our modern world is marred by wounds of racism, misogyny, child abuse and systemic injustice in many forms, some of which run old and deep. As ambassadors of Christ, we have a mandate to work against these baleful effects of the Fall by offering refuge, provision, kindness and respect to those among us who need it most.
Making God known to the world
The chief mission of an ambassador is to represent his nation and his government in a foreign land. Likewise, since we are ambassadors of Christ, our main purpose is to represent his Kingdom and to make God known to the surrounding world. Jesus has commissioned us to teach in his name, to make disciples among all nations and to be ready to give an answer to those who ask us about our hope in him.
Perhaps the most crucial way we make God known is by our love. According to Jesus, the world would know that the Father had sent him and that we were his disciples by the way we loved one another. The Lord also commanded that we love our enemies, as well as the poor, the powerless and all those from whom we can expect no social advantage. Jesus welcomed women and children, whom the culture of his day rejected, and treated widows and outcasts with kindness and respect.
This kind of love, which Jesus taught and modelled, was a massive radical challenge to the dominant culture of his time, which valued power and prestige and despised humility and weakness in any form. The same is true today. In stark contrast to the world’s definitions of love, there can be no doubt that this love is of divine rather than human origin, pointing to the God who is love itself.
Modelling God’s redemptive love
God rescuing Israel from Egypt is the central redemptive act in the Old Testament. As the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, God reminded them that he executes justice for orphans and widows and that he loves foreigners, providing them with food and clothing. Consequently, God’s people were to love foreigners as well, since they knew what that was like from their stay in Egypt. The Lord also told them that the land they were entering was his and they were merely temporary residents in it. Their entire history was a reminder that they were sojourners travelling through this present world.
The imagery of a nomadic life marked by a lack of belonging illustrates the brokenness of our world while also stirring us to long for something more. Beyond the desire to see justice done, God’s love for the weak and lonely is a microcosm of his grand plan to redeem his creation and save a people for himself. With evocative poetic language in the Psalms, the Lord reveals himself as father to the fatherless and champion of widows, who provides homes for those who are alone and deserted.
Jesus followed through on this promise, assuring us he wouldn’t leave us as orphans, nor would he ever leave or forsake us but would prepare an eternal home for us. In light of this, the New Testament authors repeatedly urge that we consider ourselves exiles travelling through this world to a far better country. We are in effect orphans, widows and foreigners, adopted by God as his daughters and sons to live with him in our forever family.
Conclusion: Concerns past and present
Much has changed in the world since the time of Jesus, a lot of it due to the influence of his teaching and the work of his people. From the start, believers began to adopt unwanted and abandoned children, support widows and other destitute women, and take care of the sick and the poor. Over the centuries, Christians created hospitals, orphanages, schools and universities. The abolition of slavery, child labour laws, the rights of women, humane working conditions, social services for the poor, the sick and the elderly, all had followers of Jesus at their forefront.
Nevertheless, much remains to be done. The world is still broken and riven by many social woes. Physical and sexual abuse of women and children, human trafficking, individual and institutional racism, neglect of the poor and elderly, and polarizing expressions of hatred continue to run rampant through our societies. Tragically, some of these can also be found within our churches.
The work is difficult and complex and won’t be completed until Jesus returns. But we have his assurance that he will complete it in a redeemed creation where there’ll be no more suffering or death, where God will wipe away all our tears and live with us forever.
As J.R.R. Tolkien observed, “The birth, death and resurrection of Jesus means that one day everything sad will come untrue.” Like a fine work of kintsugi, God will repair his beautiful, broken world with the crimson seams of Jesus’ blood and make it all the more beautiful for once having been broken.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2023 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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