by Rashion Santiago
Reading: Psalm 82
The nature of God is justice. Throughout the Bible, a continuous stream illustrates the heart of God’s concern about how the marginalized in society are treated. Psalm 82 is one such place where God-inspired Scripture shines a light of hope into the oppressive darkness so many on earth experience. This psalm is a mythic, dramatic poem about God having “taken his place . . . in the midst of the gods” (v. 1), or “other eternal beings . . . we might call them ‘spirits’” (Luther Seminary professor Rolf Jacobson, Working Preacher, Aug. 18, 2019). This is not to violate the first commandment; remember, it’s a drama—the psalmist is using creative imagery to make a point. And that point is? That if God calls the “gods” to account for allowing injustice to abound, surely God is deeply concerned about the actions of those who sit in seats of justice on earth, who have people’s lives in their hands yet fail to extend God’s righteousness (synonymous with “justice” in Hebrew) to all.
In the psalmist’s day as in ours, many in high position, called to uphold the rights of all people, gave the rich and powerful full rein to live out their hearts’ desires while stepping on the necks of the marginalized. Across time, those afflicted cry out to God. In this psalm God gives notice to anyone in power—fictional “gods” or real-life judges and other leaders—who pervert justice: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?” (v. 2).
The irony is that judges, of all people, should clearly understand justice and be in the business of shedding light on injustice. But verse 5a reads, “They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness.” And their willful ignorance has devastating consequences: it shakes the earth’s—society’s—very foundations (v. 5b). We turn on our TVs, computers, and phones and see such corrupt leaders day in and day out. The world cannot properly function—not as God intends it—while large segments of humanity suffer in the abyss of injustice.
But the psalmist writes to urge the poor, the oppressed, and all who stand with them not to lose hope. Our hope is found in a God who, though slow to anger, will not let injustice win the day. God calls injustice out and holds accountable those who oppress “the weak and the orphan . . . the lowly and the destitute” (v. 3). They may think themselves above the law, even see themselves as gods, yet “[they] shall die like mortals, and fall like any prince” (v. 7).
In response to such assurance, with the psalmist we call out in hope: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth” (v. 8); or in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your will be done on earth as in heaven” (Jacobson, Working Preacher). God answers through prophets, psalmists, the faithful who walk with God, and above all, through Jesus. The hope of the marginalized is fulfilled through the cross and the empty tomb. The cross tells us God is so committed to justice that, as the human being Jesus, God will stand with the marginalized though it costs everything—even life. And the empty tomb proclaims that death and the forces of injustice will not win. In the risen Christ every tear will be wiped dry, the brokenhearted restored to joy, and the oppressed set free.
But we all know this hope is not yet fully realized. So God calls us all to be part of restoring the foundation of justice. Christ invites us to seek his glory in love for our neighbor. The more we love, the more injustice we will see, and the more we will want to work with God to correct it.
Rashion Santiago is an ELCA pastor serving St. Paul Lutheran Church in Tannersville, Pennsylvania.