Thursday, 17 November 2011

God's judgement and economic justice

Most days these days I get round to reading the set Psalms from the Prayer Book Psalter. It is just a way of tuning in to God and giving my wandering mind something on which to focus. As with the Prayer Book lectionary generally, it also makes sure you read the bits of Scripture you might otherwise overlook, and whilst that may be uncomfortable, it is always good for the soul.
Yesterday, therefore, I was powerfully struck by the opening lines of Psalm 82:
God standeth in the congregation of princes: he is a Judge among gods.
How long will ye give wrong judgement: and accept the persons of the ungodly?
Defend the poor and fatherless: see that such as are in need and necessity have right.
Deliver the outcast and poor: save them from the hand of the ungodly.
A few days ago, I wrote a piece for this blog on the St Paul’s occupation and the protests about the financial system that sparked it off.
People have understandably noted that protestors on such occassions tend to be a rag-tag bunch, bringing together what many of us would regard as unrelated issues.
Nevertheless, it would be hard to dispute that in this particular case they have a point. As I observed in my article, the financial system may be almost incomprehensible to the layperson, but the principles on which it ought to operate are quite straightforward — honesty, integrity and (especially from a Christian viewpoint) the service of the ‘least’ by the ‘greatest’.
Unfortunately, such principles have been in short supply. Parcelling up with more sound loans the mortgage debts of those who clearly either can’t pay or won’t pay (whether now or in the future) and giving them a ‘Triple A’ rating requires at very least a certain disingenuousness. But then selling a mortgage to someone who would be better advised not to bother is itself an act of personal dishonesty, as is encouraging them to misrepresent their own financial situation to themselves and to others.
The voice of the church in this has been somewhat muted and, though I hate to say it, the voice of conservative evangelicals has been almost entirely silent.
One friend of mine, Andy Hatropp, has written a substantial volume on the subject of economicjustice, but his is a voice crying in the wilderness, not so much because there is nothing to say, but because no one else is joining in.
Yet, as yesterday’s reading of the psalms revealed, you only have to open the Bible and you are falling over injunctions concerning such matters.
As a conservative evangelical myself, I belong to a constituency which rightly emphasizes God’s judgement. But sometimes it seems we forget what it is he judges. Moreover, we should surely be aware, as Psalm 82 observes, that the God who judges expects right judgement from his people. And what is right judgement? To defend the poor and fatherless, to see that such as are in need and necessity have right, to deliver the outcast and poor and to save them from the hand of the ungodly.
It really is not rocket science.
John Richardson
17 November 2011
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  1. Thank you for this. I too have recently taken up again reading the set Psalms form the Prayer Book, and have also been struck by my own silence on this issue,where friends of mine have strong and diverse opinions. I have been reading the Jubilee Manifesto to kick-start me in a number of areas.

    As you say, the technicalities may be immensely complicated, but the commands are just immense. Clear, but immense. The tehnicalities should not be used as an excuse to be silent on the big issues, or to disobey because it's too hard to understand it all - or even to fail to learn what we need to, in order to live our own financial lives.

    Dominic Webb

  2. It seems our Slovenian brothers and sisters are giving us a lead.

    Elizabeth Bridcut

  3. Amen, Amen!

    PS Can I draw your attention to my column in Evangelicals Now for December on this subject too?!

  4. There is much to be said for reading through the psalms over a month rather than sticking to the curious 'thematic' patterns that the official weekday office Lectionary provides. On the subject of the Lectionary, I recall from a talk you gave to the Prayer Book Society your well founded reservations about the Lectionary and some of the texts that it misses out. Perhaps we need to go back to some of the earlier Prayer Book Lectionaries and seek to engage with Scripture as a whole through daily prayer rather than bits and pieces spread over a two (or even three) year cycle?

    Edward Martin, Grimsby.

  5. Edward: I have been using the daily office lectionary (currently CW, before that ASB) for thirty-odd years, and there is precious little it leaves out. Are you talking about the Sunday lectionary (which covers as much ground as it reasonably can in a one-service, three-year cycle) or the lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer each day (which, as I said, leaves out very little indeed)? I presume John's talk referred to the Sunday lectionary - am I right?

    I might also add that:
    (a) The Prayer Book Sunday Eucharistic lectionary, with only two passages per Sunday in a one-year cycle, is very lightweight indeed compared with the CW one - which is why many churches and cathedrals that still have a BCP Eucharist on a Sunday (often, if course, the 8 a.m. service) have gone to using the CW lectionary with it;
    (b) The BCP psalter - quite apart from the ancientness of the language, which I would struggle with - strikes me as being a bit of a peculiar translation in many places;
    (c) I can definitely assure john and others that Psalm 82 in CW is every bit as hard-hitting as it is in the BCP!