Compassion in Affliction (Psalm 12)

It is probably fair to say that the professing Christian world is not renowned for its unity. While there is objective unity in the Spirit, division is frequently the hallmark of the Christian church in practice. Divisions have perhaps only intensified over the last year.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, division became painfully obvious. Christian opinions were starkly divided on the appropriate response to the pandemic. Early on, when churches were feared to be particular hotspots for the spread of the virus, most churches gave the benefit of the doubt and submitted to government lockdown measures. But things quickly changed. Some churches were patient and, for a long time, proved willing to submit to government mandates. Others quickly came to criticise lockdown measures as draconian and called for immediate reopening of churches.

It became obvious that there were no easy answers. Sadly, the disagreements sometimes turned ugly, particularly on social media. But for all the disagreement over lockdowns and masks and vaccines, most Christians appeared agreed about one thing: the affliction of the vulnerable.

It grieved Christians to see thousands of people begging for food and wondering where their next meal would come from. It concerned Christians that many were losing employment and, thereby, the ability to support their family. Even in the midst of disagreement over whether or not churches should gather in disobedience to government restrictions, there was widespread agreement that measures must be taken to ensure that the vulnerable were cared for.

That attitude clearly reflects the heart of God. Psalm 12 speaks directly to this issue: “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs” (v. 5). It is not difficult to recognise that the hardest hit by national and international crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are always “the poor.” Christians, of all people, should not turn a blind eye to the suffering of those who are afflicted in this way.

There may be no easy solutions for this problem, but surely we cannot be satisfied to rest in our own provision and turn a blind, uncaring eye to the suffering of masses of people, made in the image of God. The suffering of the needy should grieve us—and grief should spur us to action.

In a country like South Africa, where perpetual need exists, it is not easy to decide how to be involved. Appeals for funding have abound—from animal rescue organisations to feeding schemes in townships to beggars standing at street corners, begging for food. We cannot possibly meet every need with which we are presented, but surely we should be asking what God would have us do with our abundance to help alleviate the suffering of the needy?

If we allow Psalm 12 to guide our prayers, we must recognise the heart of God for the poor and the needy. If God will arise on behalf of those who are suffering, what will we—God’s people—do to reflect his heart in this area? If it is true—and it is—that God usually acts through his people, surely for God to rise on behalf of the needy means that his people will rise on behalf of the needy?

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