In biblical terms, it is God who watches out for and rescues the “people of the land” (Hebrew: “Am ha-aretz”) bringing light to the darkness. Conversely, government and countless religious rulers, through most of history, have been less than benevolent care-takers of the “people of the land” (the poor/poverty-stricken). Yet, the Scriptures are filled with moral mandates for people to care for one another; and, it is especially those who posess and control substantial resources that are mandated by God to provide for the downtrodden, the poor, the oppressed. The moral, biblical mandate for mutual love, mutual care and equitable distribution of resources so that there are no poor/poverty-stricken remains a serious moral issue today as it has for thousands of years. Why? In the name of fiscal prudence, the resources that bring life (and light) to the Am ha-aretz (people of the land) are being shut off, leaving many in darkness. In a New York Times article, Paul Krugman writes that America Goes Dark. What shall people of faith, in fact what shall we all do in response to the countless millions that are crying out in anguish, hoping for rescue, as their lights flicker and threaten to be extinguished?

While it may be argued that social safety nets are in place for the “least of these” (poor/poverty-stricken, oppressed), the nets are torn, filled with holes and controlled by powerful and exclusive set of rules, regulations and power-holders. One does not have to look far to see that the support system (safety net) is badly in need of repair – rescue is on everyone’s mind. There is scarcely a private, public, or congregation budget and the safety nets they support, that has not been cut in the name of keeping the lights on (see Krugman’s article). Perhaps the time has come for the governing forces (those with power) to serve not as a strict parent that controls scarce resources; rather, to serve as a nurturing, morally prudent, beneficient care-giver (and care-receiver) – a light bearer rather than a light switch.

In biblical history, the Am ha-aretz are referred to as the common people left behind when the Babylonians removed the elite leaders and artisans to exile in Babylon in the late 6th century BCE. There was a sense of darkness that came with the removal of resources from the land by powerful rulers: rescue was on the minds of the Am ha-aretz as it was on the minds of the people that went into exile.
The concept of God’s providential rescue in early societies as well as the current day is problematic. Is “rescue” an eschatalogical concept that is relegated to another place and time (end times), a present reality of humankind’s collective role in shalom-making, or both? Is God the only one responsible for rescue? Who keeps the lights on when things go dark?

Throughout recorded history, people have prayed for rescue and release. Some have found eyes of faith to see and experience God’s rescue; whereas, countless millions of others suffer in horror as their babies were cut from their bellies (Assyrians known for this), they were ravaged by horse-mounted, fear-instilling warriors (i.e. Babylonians), were thrown mercilessly into prisons and put to death (all cultures up to the present), and torn asunder by lions and other wild animals (Roman Empire). Other destructive oppressors present in early Christianity were the wealthy, religious elite (Sanhedrin), the middle class, live and die by the letter of the law (Pharisees), the politico-religious elite (i.e. Herod Antipas), and of course the political rulers (Roman Empire). Much as in earlier history, today, we do not have to look far to see and hear the cries of the Am ha-aretz (poor/poverty-stricken) as they yearn and plead for rescue from social, political, religious, and economic storms that threaten to snuff out their lights.

Only after having critically read the Bible, studied theology, sociology, anthropology and psychology, and having lived and worked among the powerful and the less than powerful have I come to realize that the eschatological and practical concepts of rescue are very problematic. For instance, if God manifests perfect love and has no favorites, why are some rescued from horrific circumstances while countless millions suffer and die?  If God is omnipotent (all powerful), why does God not rescue all who are suffering (see Rabbi Harold Cushner and others)? Is God schizophrenic, pouring out vengeance on some while showing mercy to others? If the major and minor prophets spoke God’s judgment upon all who would oppress/harm anyone, especially people of the land, why do we still have so many poor and oppressed among us? What then shall individuals and communities do? Importantly, what are the roles of people, congregations, organizations, associations, and institutions as the current day powerful Sanhedrin, Pharisees,  politico-religious elite, and economic forces exert unilateral (dominate) power over others with threats of turning off the lights?

The U.S. is not there yet; however, it seems we are quickly approaching a “tipping point” at which the U.S. as a whole will either equitably unify and move forward (live), or inequitably divide and fall (die). Corporate and political profits must yield to the biblical prophets admonitions so that there is shalom (holistic well-being) in this land and across the earth. In Deuteronomy 15 and Acts 2 there are found the requirement and model for people to live and share equitably – together – so that there will be no more poor: the shalom community becomes manifest both now and in an eschatological future.

From as early as the eighth century BCE (nearly three thousand years and more), God’s mandate has been in place, re-emphasized by prophets, and yet the poor/poverty-stricken people of the land remain among us: we are they. How is God at work to keep the lights burning? What will we collectively do to keep the lights on?