It’s often said that God is on the side of the poor/oppressed/marginalized, and, indeed, there is much in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that suggest that God has an eye out for those who who have less voice in society than others. But YHWH is more than happy to use rich kings as well as naked prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, and Jesus embraces tax collectors and fishermen alongside the blind and lame in the Christian scriptures. The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.
To the statement, “God is on the side of the poor,” one can ask, “How poor do I have to be for God to be on my side?” Because poverty — or marginalization or oppression — is always relative. I may be poor compared to my neighbor, but I’m rich compared to a person living in Appalachia, who is rich compared to someone in Burundi, who is rich compared to a serf who lived in 1243. Compared to a first century tax collector, I am not poor.
The other problem with claiming that God is one someone’s side, over against someone else, is that it gets to sounding a bit like members of a sports team who claim, upon winning, that the victory was somehow authored or blessed by God. Most of us scoff when one team claims that God is on their side. But how different is it to claim that, based on our own human measurements of poverty, that God favors one group of people over another?
Rather than claiming that God is on the side of the poor in an unqualified sense, better to note that we are all poor, relative to God. Or just to state that God is on the side of everyone.
N.B., This post is part of a series exploring apophatic statements about God.