Over 15o,ooo people died in the capital of Haiti a mere two weeks ago. People are scrambling to get food, water and medicine to the victims of the tragedy. The Red Cross has raised over $21 Million in their text messaging campaign. $61 Million was raised through the Hope for Haiti Now television event. Right now, all eyes are on Haiti. But in six months, people will be bored of the tragic stories. And in a year everyone will have forgotten the horror of decaying bodies and mass graves. In two years we will barely remember what happened in Haiti.
Don’t believe we could ever be that callous?
It has been five years since 230,000 people were killed and 500,000 were left homeless by the earthquake and tsunami that hit Sumatra, Indonesia. It’s only been two years since Cyclone Nargis struck the Burmese peninsula and killed 100,000. In 2005, over 1,836 American’s lost their lives in Katrina’s hurricane and flood, with over 10,000 losing everything they owned. Yet how many youth groups are planning mission trips to work in New Orleans? How many churches are planning trips to help the Burmese rebuild neighborhoods? When was the last time you donated money to the rehabilitation efforts in Indonesia? Uninhabitable houses in need of repair can be found all over south Louisiana. The people on the Burmese coast are still struggling to rebuild their lives. And even five years later, the people of Aceh still suffer from the trauma of losing half their city’s inhabitants to the tsunami. The urgency is gone, but the needs are still there.
Eventually, humans burn out. Eventually volunteers go home. Eventually the pictures no longer move us to tears. Eventually our compassion fades as our attention is diverted elsewhere. Eventually, human compassion is not enough.
As humans, we are quick to move on, but as Christians we are called to stay.
Over and over in Scripture, God commands His people to care for the weak and victimized – the widows and fatherless. God doesn’t tell us to give up two weeks to go on a mission trip or put off buying that new TV so we can give the money to relief work. No. God commands us to live a lifestyle of ministering to the widows and fatherless. He tells us to defend, protect, execute justice, care for, feed, give work to, and plead the cause of the widow and fatherless. In the Old Testament, the subject of “widows and fatherless” appears 31 times. And all 31 times, God is either naming Himself as the father of the fatherless, commanding His people to care for the fatherless, or He is calling down judgment on His people because they have ignored the widows and fatherless.
God names Himself as protector of the widows and fatherless. Twice, King David praises the Lord as being the Father of the fatherless and protector of widows. And once David cries out for the Lord to judge their enemies because they killed the widow and murder the fatherless. In Deuteronomy, God Himself is named as the one who executes justice for the fatherless and the widow. In Jeremiah, God reveals His great love for women and children; He tells the people “Leave your fatherless children; I will keep them alive; and let your widows trust in me.”
God blesses those who care for the widow and fatherless and curses those who don’t. God speaks of the widows and fatherless among the poorest of the land, those who would perish if not carried for by the people. He commands that His people pay tithes to care for the poor women and children. (Deuteronomy 14:29, 26:12) He commands His people to give feasts, inviting the poorest of the poor – the widows and fatherless – to eat with them. (Deuteronomy 16:14) The Israelites were commanded to leave behind some of the wealth of their harvest/vineyard/garden, so that the widow and fatherless could work and eat. (Deuteronomy 24:19-21) Once God’s people have cared for the widows and fatherless, as long as they are pursuing holiness, God will bless them. (Deuteronomy 26:12-13)
In the time of the prophets (Isaiah and Jeremiah all the way to Malachi), Israel was living in rebellion to God’s commands and God was disciplining them to cause them to turn back to Him. Five times in the prophets, the people repent and beg God to have mercy on them. God’s answer to Israel is that they must truly repent, “truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.” Jeremiah 7:6. God promises to restore His people if they will live rightly and take care of the widow and fatherless.
God links holiness with caring for the widow and fatherless. As God is holy and righteous, he called his people to be the same. God tells Israel that He is holy and that He executes justice for the widows and fatherless. His people are commanded to do the same. (Deuteronomy 10:18) , At the Mount of Ebal, God calls His people out to live as holy and separate, He makes it clear what is not appropriate behavior for people of God through a series of curses, one of those curses is directed at anyone who perverts justice for the widow and fatherless. (Deuteronomy 27:19)
Israel did not always obey God, in fact, they were known for disobeying God most of the time. It was a continual cycle of events, Israel would disobey, God would discipline and Israel would come crawling back to God begging for mercy. In Ezekiel 22:4-8 God tells Israel that they are being disciplined harshly because they disobeyed God’s commands and wronged the widow and fatherless. In Isaiah, God tells the Nation of Judah that they have sinned and must return to holy living and once again care for the widows and fatherless. “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
So, why are the widows and fatherless such a big deal for God? God speaks of the widow and fatherless 31 times in the Old Testament. What is so special about them? Why not the poor and sick? Why not the victims of war and famine? Why the widows and fatherless? A widow is a woman who has no husband to protect and provide for her. The fatherless are children who have no father to guide them in life, protect them from harm or provide for their basic needs of food and clothes. Notice that God didn’t say “orphans,” He said “fatherless.” God is focusing His attention on women and children who have been abandoned by the man who was supposed to protect and provide for them. Clearly, God is focusing on the role of husband and father, but why?
2 Corinthians 6:18 says, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
And 1 John 3:1 tells us, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”
God reveals Himself to the world as father. God chose to be understood primarily in masculine terms. God is not merely like a father to His creation; He is really our Father. In fact, God’s Fatherhood is the paradigm of fatherhood for all men. All earthly fatherhood is derived from God’s fatherhood. This places a heavy responsibility on men, as God calls men to be a living picture of God Himself to the world. And when men reject that role, God takes it personally because it is His image that is marred. When the widows and fatherless are neglected, God the Father’s image to the world is distorted. That is why God calls His people to care for the widows and fatherless – to restore an accurate picture of God the Father to the world. Part of being a witness to the world is showing people who God the father really is. We do that by caring for the widows and orphans.
Human compassion is not enough, because eventually we all move on. But God’s call to His people is enough, because Jesus died for us and there should be nothing we wouldn’t do for Him.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
That verse does not command a donation or a trip, it commands a lifestyle.
It is a lifestyle not based solely on human compassion, but based on a call from God to restore an accurate picture of Him to a lost and dying world.