An Apologia for Outcry
Let me start by saying what this post will not be. It will not be an evaluation of the recent Grand Jury decisions in Ferguson or New York. It will not be an analysis of any evidence in these cases. It will not be a judgment (per se) of the current political climate. It will not be an argument for a certain type of political theory either.
What it will be is an apologia for the crying out of oppressed people. It is what I have determined the Scriptures to require. A cry that the church should recognize, support, and encourage. The declaration that something is "lawful" does not make it righteous. And only a fool would declare that the recent string of deaths at the hands of police officers has been righteous.
Old Testament Paradigm
The Old Testament gives us great ground work for a doctrine of crying out. Two incidents, in particular, can be singled out as valuable examples: Noah and the Israelites in Egypt. Though others exist, these tie together nicely with a typological event that most people spiritualize to avoid deriving sociopolitical truths. Hence, it will be easiest to derive the essential points from these potent passages.
In the New Testament, Peter describes Noah as a "herald of righteousness" (2 Pet 2:5). By way of analogy, Peter places Noah in a position of proclaiming God's judgment in a non-believing world (1 Peter 3). They do not believe God will judge. They behave in the manner right in their own eyes. This climate exists in a condition of rampant sin. Noah is a preacher of righteousness that ultimately receives God's covenant of deliverance but it isn't merely deliverance. God "remembers" Noah in his time of distress upon the water and rescues him (Gen 8:1). He lifts him out because of his faithful cry against the sins of the world as God's covenant herald.
All of this imagery is echoed in the Israelite captivity in Egypt. There too is a partial deliverance by water (Moses) for the purpose of delivering a people who are crying out in oppression to sin (Exo 2:24-25). As Moses is delivered as a precursor, so once again God "remembers" His people. We now have our great tie between these passages. Ultimately, God will deliver His people through water by drowning their (aka His) enemies.
Typology is Not Allegory
It is important at this point that we do not make a grave error. Though both of these texts point to the spiritual fulfillment found in Jesus Christ and our release from sin, this does not exclude them from sociopolitical relevance. That is to say that because they have future relevance does not exclude them from having original author/audience relevance that is significantly more practical. One of the great hermeneutical errors done to these texts is to point them solely to their "spiritual fulfillment" such that all historicity and authentic socio-political themes are eventually relegated to nothing. This is true allegory. And while most will criticize Origen, they will neglect to criticize their pastor who can preach through Exodus, Judges, and 1-2 Samuel without making a political statement. The truth is that if we solely let the future type/fulfillment dominate the purpose of the text, we relegate the human authorship and historical meaning to mere mythology. We say liberal scholars are guilty of this but we neglect to see how our "spiritual" interpretations are nothing but a replication of their sinfulness. Both of these OT passages speak to corrupt humanity receiving what they deserve for their sins. We cannot ignore this. In the latter example, all the "laws" of Egypt condoned the misbehavior. But "lawfulness" by the state's decree does not determine righteousness.
The introduction of Abraham the Hebrew (Gen 14:13) is associated with the rescuing of his kinsman Lot. So also the book of Exodus and the redemption story is centered around the release of oppressed Hebrews. This is what the original audience would have thought when hearing about their father Abraham. That their God was a God of redemption from oppression. So it is only ignorance that keeps us from seeing in the exodus a deeply theological people experiencing oppression by a ruler who has made himself to be God. This Pharaoh lost sight that all men are made in God's image (Gen 1:26-27). There is a political tension that requires the breaking forth of God's prophet to alter the conditions of those who called out to Him. Oppression in Exodus has occurred due to fear of Israel's numbers. Increased force is used lest a riot break out (Exo 1-2). All the while the Lord sits and mocks those who would claim to rule (Psa 2). God would deliver His people in response to their crying out. This motif of crying out would occur throughout the book of Judges and carry through the prophets into the New Testament.
New Testament Gospel Orientation
The New Testament records multiple "crying out" of people in affliction. In particular, the gospel of Luke is concerned with the vocal decrying of neglect and oppression. It beings early in Luke 1-2 in the poetic songs but it carries throughout the Scriptures. In no place is this more pronounced and dramatic than the blind man screaming as Jesus approached Jericho (Luke 18:35-42). That Christ is approaching Jericho must be set aside for the time being. Instead, the focus is on the individual crying out to Jesus Christ and receiving the typical theological response: rebuke (Luke 18:39). This crying out and rebuke is Luke's formal notice that this event is related to the disciples' rebuke of the parents bringing their kids to Jesus (Luke 18:15). It is thus communicated that the disciples of Jesus were unwittingly linked to rebuking the needy, despondent, and impaired. These are the front line listeners to Jesus. They are very quick to turn around and tell the peanut gallery to shut up.
Christ, however, works differently than those who follow Him. He brings deliverance to the captives. This theme is unique to the gospel of Luke (Luke 4:14-28). And this is why the gospel of Luke alone records the stories of the prodigal son, thief on the cross, and many other neglected individuals. The gospels as a whole are filled with people crying out Christ for deliverance. But it is not merely deliverance from sin. No, even these individuals suffer from ailments, afflictions, and social rejection. In Luke's gospel, the angels come to shepherds who would be barred from the temple. Christ is seen as one who eats frequently with sinners. These are people oppressed not just by Rome but by other members of Israel. The Pharisees, tax collectors, and Sadducees. All of these groups oppressed their own people, within the scope of the law, to the detriment of their covenant faithfulness. And it is to these that Christ came. And if you don't think He came to shake things up politically then you don't understand why He was ultimately killed. As the new Noah, Abraham, and Moses, Christ was concerned with responding to the outcry of despondent Israel and remembering them. And it was this very outpouring of mercy unto the oppressed that got Him killed.
The Covenant of Creation
So far, the proof has been the God is concerned with His covenant people. There is no argument that God is shown throughout history as God-for-His-people. So the question becomes, is God "for" anyone other than His covenant people? The answer lies in who we determine are God's people. If we, as many Reformed people do, solely view God's "saved" people as His elect people then we will inherently shrink back into the safety of the church. The church is the elected of God unto eternal salvation but this does not make them the only members of God's election or God's covenants. The covenants often called the "common grace covenants" also claim for God the whole of creation and this is why the church is not permitted to fall back into the church but must stand for the oppression of individuals throughout God's creation. In these common grace covenant, laws are given concerning bloodshed and general laws for the state. But to what gracious extent do these covenants extend?
It is on the cross that Christ forgave those who killed Him. This cross is the crucifixion that was before the foundation of the earth. There is no creation apart from Jesus Christ's death and there is certainly no covenant with Adam apart from the impending grace of God in Adam's eventual fall. This common grace covenant extends through Noah and covers the entire earth. There is and will forever remain a manner in which all of creation is God's covenant "mine." And it is this creation that is permitted to cry out to their covenant Creator for mercy. The church should be aware of this and familiar with the historical-redemptive nature of God's covenant grace. They must keep attuned to the covenant rejectors who still cry out to their covenant Creator.
On the Characteristics of Crying Out
It is here that I must stray from the Biblical text. I cannot formulaically show that "crying out" is to denounce the unfair political rule of an oppressive people. Instead I can only witness the rebellion of Moses that resulted in death, the rebellion of Samson that resulted in death, the rebellion of David that result in dead Philistines and a judged Saul, the rebellious birth of Jesus Christ that toppled Satan, Herods, and Caesars, and the declaration by Paul "Jesus Christ is Lord." His reign is over all creation. His blood has been shed to purchase for Himself dominion over everything made in the image of God and it is beyond fair for them to cry out in despondence and distress. The gospel mocks those whom Christ defeated at the cross. And none escape the defeat at Christ's cross. All the world is now a stage for the grace of Jesus Christ personified in His church. As Joseph called his brothers so Christ has called us. And as Joseph fed the world so also we are called to the table to serve our neighbors, even those who reject Christ. In this light, their crying out is of principal importance to us.
It is with this apologia that I remain vocal in my animosity and disdain for the behavior of America's courts and police system. This is not an accusation against every person within the system but the behavior, attitude, and sinful "lawfulness" of the system itself. It is disgusting and despicable. It is "lawful" and unrighteous. It is a mockery of the gospel and is to the shame of Christians who pretend this nation remains a "Christian nation." It is with this that I associate with the people of Israel in Egypt, and those oppressed today throughout the world, in a crying out against systems that feign righteousness and deliver oppression. Alongside the prophets, of whom Christ is the greatest, it is time for the church to be prophetic in its proclamation of the gospel and make the comfortable and oppressive uncomfortable. In conclusion, the church that is not moved is no church at all.