Finding God among neighbors in need: social justice as spiritual practice

Christians should help others

Many people believe that spirituality or faith is a personal matter, something I choose, believe and/or practice for myself. If there is a deity or power involved, then spirituality is between me and God or that spiritual presence. 

If we take much of the Bible seriously, however, those who believe in the God of Abraham or follow Jesus Christ cannot say that faith is only a personal matter. Throughout the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, God says that God detests practices of faith and devotion that are without concern for the poor and the marginalized. Oops! My best intentions and most faithful religious observations will be rejected if at the same time I ignore the plight of those in need or suffering injustice. Jesus continues this theme in the Gospels, saying that whatever we do to or for the least among us, we do those things for Jesus.

If we want to meet God or have an authentic spiritual experience, a good way to pursue such a thing is to act on behalf of another, particularly on behalf of those with limited voice and options themselves. There are plenty of vulnerable people in the world and in our neighborhood. God’s heart is with these people, and God’s presence found in service. To find God, authentic spirituality, or simply to pursue a good life, let us find ways to stand with and advocate for those whom no one listens to — immigrants, addicts, those in prison, peoples struggling with historical trauma and disadvantage or the parent down the street just doing their best to help their family survive the week.

This is not to say that people of faith are to “save” those who struggle. Rather, we work toward a world where all people have voice and choice, dignity and value, a world with justice for all. God allows us to be part of God’s work in the world not because some are special or more equipped to serve, but because God is gracious to everyone and calls all of us to right relationship with ourselves, others, creation and God. 

A life of faith is not just between me and God, for God’s care for all people requires me to be part of God’s work in the world, seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God and others.

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