Note: This article is currently under peer review and may be revised.
We’re going to look at Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, then develop some principles around it. Following we will look throughout the Bible to develop a theology of oppression.
4 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. 2 And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. 3 But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 ESV
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon (or “the preacher”) discovered that the meaning of life is difficult to grasp. The author has come to the conclusion that this is impossible to do without God. Then we determined that even with a sovereign God in view, there are still problems: bad things happen to just people. But even still God does all things for our good and his glory, or as Solomon puts it, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Now Solomon is walking us through some things that are part of our insane world.
So, some principles from the text: 1. Oppression sucks. You can see this in the first verse, the oppressed people are crying and there is no one to comfort them. Oppression has taken many forms over the ages. Slavery has been a huge form of oppression over the ages, manstealing. Usury, or loaning money to people who you know cannot repay (purposefully) to trap them is another. Governments falsely accusing and trialing people. Forced sterilizations, the list can go on and on. These things happen, and no one is around to comfort.
2. Power reveals inward wickedness. Oppression can be committed by anyone who gets power. No one is too far or too pure to commit oppression. We tend to believe that on the basis on history only certain groups of people can really be oppressive. Case in point: Israel. Israel was oppressed in Egypt for 400 years! Hundreds of years living under unjust oppression. Surely this rescued people would never do this, right? Wrong. In the time of the judges, shortly after they take the Promised Land, the Israelites oppress and enslave people that God told them to wipe out. (Which their disobedience comes to haunt them later). Anyone can get power. Anyone can abuse power.
Anyone can get power. Anyone can abuse power.Tweet
3. Oppression is a part of life until Jesus returns. Although death is a relief from earthly oppression, death is still the enemy. Death itself is a form of oppression that may stop our temporary misery, sure, but it also stops our. . . life. Paul speaks of death as the last enemy to be destroyed in 1 Cor. 15:26. And as Solomon in his skeptical “under the sun” perspective just said, “Who knows what’s in store for us after we die? It could very well be more or even worse oppression” Thus the only escape from earthly oppression (apart from Jesus) is another form of oppression. This means that oppression will always be a part of our world, like poverty. Jesus himself said, ”the poor you always have with you.“
These three principles from the text will really help us as we consider some major things going on in our culture in regard to oppression. We will define and critique a major theory of oppression, and then offer some biblical theories of oppression, following I will give you some practical advice on how to carry out overcoming oppression and injustices.
Critical Race Theory as defined by UCLA: “CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color. CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy. Legal discourse says that the law is neutral and colorblind, however, CRT challenges this legal “truth” by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a vehicle for self-interest, power, and privilege. CRT also recognizes that liberalism and meritocracy are often stories heard from those with wealth, power, and privilege. These stories paint a false picture of meritocracy; everyone who works hard can attain wealth, power, and privilege while ignoring the systemic inequalities that institutional racism provides.”https://spacrs.wordpress.com/what-is-critical-race-theory/
Critical Theory came as an expansion of Marx’s conflict theory. The Frankfurt School developed this in order to address structural issues causing inequity. The theory was “critical” in that its design is to identify problems in order to facilitate revolutionary political change. That’s why CRT’s creators designed it: to enact sweeping change, not incremental adjustments. Why? Because the Frankfurt School believed capitalism was morally evil and will fail. CRT as its founders intended it believes the American experiment should have never began.
CRT is good in that it looks to historical forms of systemic oppression and their influence today. However, there are several negatives about CRT, mainly that its focus is too narrow. It only looks at one form of oppression, ignores all others, and decides the way to solve it without giving consideration to other effects. Essentially, it sees current power structures as flawed and seeks to overturn them and give power to the maligned. It assumed people’s problems are a lack of money and a lack of power and promises to give those people those very things. But hold on, who exactly is going to be handing out power? Wouldn’t that, by default, have to be an even more powerful individual or institution?? And remember what we’ve already established about power: power reveals inner wickedness. As Lord Acktin put it, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is why the American project separated power into three branches, in order to hold off its corrupting influence and give a voice to everyone.
Is lack of money and privilege a problem for some communities? Yes, I would agree that lack in resources and influences could cause problems. But fixing this problem politically rather than by “good Samaritans” would mean massive political upheaval and a new political system. How would the power structure in this new political system be formed? What protections would be set in place to prevent corruption and oppression? Historically, Socialist governments have no such safe guards. At the same time, there are numerous other forms of human oppression this political upheaval wouldn’t solve: Porn industry, drug abuse, sexual abuse, sex slave trade, domestic abuse, loan sharks, lottery and gambling, racism, sexism, illiteracy, child abuse, bullying et. al.
Another problem is that CRT believes lack of money and power is the problem and does not even consider virtue. Some white people historically gained privilege, money, and power by oppressing black people. (Some white people historically found the practice of slavery deplorable; some white people were too poor to afford slaves, et. al. CRT had a simplistic view of history, but this could be another point). Regardless of which whites did what, the question is why did some white people abuse their standing to gain advantage? CRT addresses the symptoms without curing the disease.
There’s a number of reasons why those whites chose to do what they did. Post-enlightenment, post-romantic thinking both had a large play in this. These men may have used the Bible to support their claims; however, the Bible teaches the exact opposite of what they accomplished. Romanticism brought forth the image of the ideal humanity. The enlightenment allowed this ideal humanity to detach itself from the God of the Bible (while holding on to some non-miraculous deity of deism). These things combined with social-Darwinism led to Jim Crow laws, red-lining and all the rest of the deplorable practices. All-in-all we can sum up the problem thusly: some white people sought and took advantages from other ethnicities because of lack of virtue (or sin).
Sin is a problem for all humanity, not just white people. BLM justified plundering because their ancestors had been plundered. Some blacks plundered stores in certain cities and caused chaos. Why? Lack of virtue (or sin). Political revolution, social upheaval, handing out power and money, more education, none of these things will solve the sin problem. CRT did not even consider virtue in its assessment of history, no ethical analysis in its theory. CRT cannot accomplish what it wants because its powerless in the face of individuals’ lack of virtue.
Some things churches need to recognize: around the Civil War, white people kicked blacks out of their churches or refused them communion which caused a great religious segregation. Black churches have recognized the problems CRT points out long before CRT was a theory. Black churches have been fighting this battle of inequality, while most white churches remained silenced by their “color-blindness.” Being color-blind in the sense that you do not judge someone on the basis of the color of their skin is fine; however, color-blindness became an excuse to ignore some white people’s sin and neglect reconciliation. Black churches were the leaders in the Civil Rights movement. But no longer, this movement has largely become secularized. Adding sexual rights to ethnic rights forced a large amount of religiously faithful people out of the fight.
After the civil war, black churches, not the government, started schools, job training, and political action to support the black community. . . And it was working despite racist push back, until the government took control of the movement, secularized it, added more “rights” to it, and started focusing on wrong issues and politicize them. Post-modernity and its rejection of absolute truth believes multiple conflicting “rights” can coexist in direct contradiction to the law of non-contradiction (case in point: the fight between feminism and transgenderism).
Churches, no matter their predominate ethnicity, must seek ethnic reconciliation. Churches must operate locally to search for the maligned communities and help free them from oppression. Churches, unlike 50 years ago, are now in direct competition with the government in community support. The secular society can only offer broken cisterns of freedom because they ignore spiritual (and ethical) realities. Churches cannot believe, the government has it under control, education will solve problems, that we can just kick back and be “color blind.” Our society is falling apart, stumbling in darkness, and rotten to the core. The only divinely initiated human institution that God calls the light and salt of the earth is the Church! But our comfortable society has made us too lazy to do anything about it. Christians influenced by CRT try to get white people to repent of unconscious bias and the sin of partiality. Again, this misses the mark. The majority of Christians in America aren’t being partial they’re just being lazy! Most Christians believe about oppression: “the government will take care of that” or, “oh, they’ll learn not to do that in school,” or, “Isn’t that why we hired the pastor?”
The majority of Christians in America aren’t being partial they’re just being lazy!Tweet
Here’s a quick theology of oppression:
- The major oppressor of humanity is sin – This sentiment is in Genesis 4. But also Romans 5:12 Paul encourages the believers to no longer let sin reign in their mortal bodies forcing them to obey its passions. Those regenerated by the Holy Spirit have this ability; whereas, those that are unregenerate are oppressed by sin.
- The oppressive nature of sin can spread from the individual to society and systems – In Israel oftentimes, the idolatry of the king becomes the idolatry of the people. The sin of the individual can also affect a church. This is why the practice of church discipline is so important (Matt 18)
- The only freedom from this oppression is the Gospel of the kingdom. (kingdom: Matt. 4:23; freedom from sin through Christ: John 8:32-36, Acts 13:39, Rom. 6:7, Gal. 5:1, Rev. 1:5)
- Rescuing people from human oppressors is commanded in the Bible, but does not mean those individuals are rescued from the oppression of sin. (Is. 1:17)
- The oppression of sin on an individual is worse than human oppression. In Mark 2, they lower down the paralytic man, everyone expected him to be freed from his bad legs. Jesus tells him that his sins are forgiven. Furthermore, Jesus did not begin mere political or social revolution. Why? One government that topples another is just as susceptible to being oppressive as the previous one. Political and social reform, while it can be good and sometimes reaps benefits, is not the ultimate means of freedom from oppression. Freedom starts from the inward freedom to sin and extends outward in communities.
- Freedom from oppression has already started and will be finally completed when Jesus returns. We cannot see or deal a final death blow to sin and the Great Oppressor, Satan. Jesus deals finally with this problem (Rev. 19)
- When you hear about an oppression in society check it against the Bible. So an important point to mention here: Every time someone puts a problem under the category “oppression” it comes from a worldview. People who want to have abortions believe the pro-life movement is “oppressing them.” NAMBLA believes laws against pedophilia are “oppressing” them. According to intersectionality, which goes hand in hand with CRT, you are oppressed (whether you think you are or not) if you are a woman, a POC, not cisgendered, not heterosexual. What is this but a theory of identity which exists in exact contradiction to biblical theories of identity. Intersectionality tells you to find power in your maligned identities; the Bible tells you to find meekness and humility in your identities. What a contrast. Also the number 1 oppressor according to the Bible is sin. Gen 4 If you do well, will you not be accepted?[b] And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to[c] you, but you must rule over it.” Any theory seeking to resolve oppression that does not take sin into account will never work because no matter how much government, education, or money you give someone, they will still sin.
- If you hear about a potential resolution to oppression, check it by the Bible. There’s a story in the Bible about a demon possessed person following Paul around announcing that they are servants of God and everyone should listen to them. Finally, Paul get annoyed and casts out the demon that was oppressing her. The people who owned her were upset. Why? Because they did not believe the demon was oppressing her because it gave her powers to predict the future. People get oppressions and the solutions wrong because these things are always tied to a certain worldview. If I give someone holding a sign saying they need money for food $5 and they go spend it on drugs is their problem a lack of money or a lack of virtue? So what is really oppressing this individual, poverty or sin? (Probably yes). So we have to be wise when thinking about resolving oppression. And trust me, the church has been the forerunner on this issue for a long time. It’s the Church that started schools, the Church that started hospitals, the Church that started homeless shelters and children’s homes, it was the Church that led the movement to abolish slavery, and the Church that is now leading the movement to end abortion and the sex slave trade. The church is active in ending oppression because it recognizes the heart cause and knows the heart solution. The Church cares for the outcast because she knows how maligned she has been and still is from sin, but Christ died and loved her anyway.
- You cannot free every oppressed person. I know this sounds depressing, but it’s just reality. You cannot fight every fight and do it well. Does this mean you should just give up? No. Enjoy what you can enjoy. Or, perhaps better, don’t let what you cannot accomplish keep you from enjoying the victories you can accomplish. This is a common message in the book of Ecclesiastes. Also, The Lord has given you the desires of your heart. I have friends that are really passionate about abortion but don’t mention much about the problem of gambling. So what? Is that a moral flaw? No. They cannot fight both battles perfectly. What desires has the Lord laid on your heart? That’s the battle you fight. If you develop a new passion, so be it, fight there.
- Balance physical and spiritual oppression. Jesus freed people from physical and spiritual oppression. It can be easy to whole heartedly pursue one side in neglect of the other. But also recognize the complexity betwixt these two forms of oppression. Sometimes individuals are physically oppressed because of their oppression from sin or from the demonic realm (numerous biblical examples of this; in fact, the word “oppress” is used most in the NT is in reference to demons). On the other hand, sometimes physical oppression leads an individual further into sin. Oppression makes the wise man mad (Ecc 7:7).
What form of oppression breaks your heart the most? Does the Bible say this is really an oppression? If so, develop or come alongside an already existing Biblical solution and take a stand. You cannot free everyone in oppression, but don’t let what you cannot do keep you from enjoying the ones you can free. In setting people free from oppression of sin by preaching the gospel (which is a must), don’t lose sight of physical oppression. In freeing people from physical oppression, don’t forget their deeper oppression comes from sin and the devil.