What does God have to say about it?

Quite a lot, in fact! There are more than 2,000 references in the Bible dealing with justice, poverty, and oppression. The prophets, in particular, express God's outrage at societies that had become entirely corrupt, where those with power exploited those who were powerless. For our purposes here, we'll look at just three:

  • "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

    Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

    Proverbs 31: 8-9

  • Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.

    If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

    Proverbs 24: 11-12

  • Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.

    Proverbs 3: 27

Here are just a few observations about these passages that might be helpful in directing our response to human rights issues:

All these verses are imperatives, they are direct commands. God's wording here is not, You might want to try to help, if you feel led. Each verse clearly instructs to “speak up” and “rescue” and “defend”.

Significantly, also, these are all action verbs. God does not want us only to feel bad, He wants us to act. This cannot be articulated any more clearly than in Proverbs 3: 27.

These are all taken from the book of Proverbs. While the Bible's message of intervening for the “least of these” pervades its pages, there are times when we are tempted to “contextualize” the messages and instructions found there — that somehow we are exempt from the direct implications of these commands, because we live in a different time and place. We are often tempted to think, even unconsciously, that what God might say to an Old Testament Hebrew or a first-century Christian does not apply to us as modern, Western believers. However, Proverbs — the book of wisdom — really is God's instruction book to all believers throughout time and history. Of course, this is true for the entirety of the Bible, but the Proverbs content being written outside of any particular historical context helps remove the temptation to look at God's instruction to intervene on behalf of the poor and oppressed in a “that was then, this is now” sort of way.

Finally, Proverbs 24: 12, is an unambiguous statement about how seriously God takes our response, or lack of one, to the oppressed, indicating unequivocally that there will be consequences for the latter. Our hearts will be weighed, and we will have to answer for them.