story: picketing city hall

“God executes justice for the oppressed. . . gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free.” Ps. 146:7

I remember being at a demonstration at city hall in downtown St. Louis. A small group of homeless women were carrying poster board signs with reminders to do justice. One of these signs was Psalm 146:7 itself. I was watching this young African American mother walk in circles with this sign with the others, when up walked a couple of young African American men. They laughed and pointed at the sign and one of them made a pass at the woman.

“If you’re waiting for God to give you some justice and food, you’ll be waiting a long time. Why don’t you come home with me baby?”

In that moment the audacity of this Psalm was clearly demonstrated for me. When we make our society and our religion so closed to God’s Outside judgment, by speaking and acting as self-contained moral agents, the Scriptures become nothing more than pleasant human sympathies. We can’t make sense of passages that describe God himself as our life source, the judge, the Ruler.

In him we live and move and exist.” Acts 17:28 (NASB)

“For not from the east, not from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation; but God is the Judge; He puts down one, and exalts another.” Ps. 75:5-6 (NASB)

From outside the biblical frame we hear the passionate cry of humanity, “So which is it? Will God set the prisoner free or will the State? When will God judge the nations?”

The answer to which and when is, frustratingly, “Yes.” As in, God uses and judges the State. God acts within history and yet, history itself is contained in His promise.

Now, back to my story. The woman with the sign held to her own. The men left and she laughed and kept picketing. She remained a profound witness to God’s check on human pride and the apparent absurdity of God’s Name in the context of human services.

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