Do Not Merely Ask Why Evil Exists

Do you ever ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  Or, “Why does God allow evil in the world?”

In Psalm 82, it is as if God takes those questions and throws them back at the pantheon of spiritual forces in the universe or, as some scholars suggest, at a collection of national leaders (who are referred to here as “gods” in that they hold authority of other human beings and wield a civil authority that is feared as though they are gods): “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: ‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?’”

Though Psalm 82 does not go on to answer the questions about why God allows evil to permeate this world and ruin people’s lives, Psalm 82 reveals the truth that God is deeply concerned about justice for the downtrodden and that God throws the responsibility for justice in the world back on us.  In verses 3-4, God commands us: “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.  Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Throughout Israel’s life as a nation, God has called upon his people to strive for justice and to care for one another.  Brennan Breed shares, “Ancient Israel stood out among its ancient Near Eastern neighbors precisely because its legal traditions assume that the entire community is responsible for the welfare of the poor and the vulnerable.  In the epilogue of the Code of Hammurabi, the king of Babylon pledges to take care of the widow and the orphan—yet those vulnerable people are not protected by the body of the law code itself.  In the Law of Moses, by contrast, the widow and orphan are explicitly protected by legislation (Exodus 22:22) and given economic provision in the law code (Leviticus 19;9-10; Deuteronomy 24:17-21).  Moses also mentions “the poor” (Exodus 22:25; 23:6, 11) and “the aliens” (Exodus 23:9; Deuteronomy 24:14), classes of people not even considered in any other ancient Near Eastern law code.  While ancient Babylonians certainly considered it a nice thing to take care of vulnerable people, they never legislated it.  For them, taking care of the vulnerable was a matter of personal responsibility, and the community should be left out of it.  Israel’s biblical texts, on the other hand, legislate communal provisions for the vulnerable.  In Exodus and Deuteronomy, God and the entire community of Israel enter into a legally binding agreement—a covenant…. And in it, Moses says to the community of ancient Israel: ‘I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land”’ (Deuteronomy 15:11).  The ‘you’ mentioned in this passage is the entire community of Israel, and this is a stipulation of a legally binding communal contract.”

The message of Psalm 82 is this: Don’t just ask why evil is rampant in this world; do something about it.  Do our part to bring about justice.  Do our part to care for those around us who are in need.

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