When God Stood Up
An Isaiah 59 Compassion
by Beth Grant
So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like people without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead…. We look for justice, but find none; for deliverance, but it is far away. For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey (Isaiah 59:9–15).
In September 2010, I first heard news of a tragic modern story of injustice that is becoming far too common. A 21-year-old woman entered a local hospital emergency room in cardiac arrest. As the medical team worked on the patient, they noticed visible signs of torture and violent sexual abuse. In the days that followed, the sickening story unfolded.
At 15, the mentally challenged victim accepted an offer to live with a man and woman in their home. The teenage girl, looking for help, instead found herself in physical and sexual slavery for the next five years. She endured barbaric sexual torture and rape, all of which her captors documented for paying “customers” who had an appetite for cruelty and sexual perversion either as participants, observers, or consumers of video pornography. After going into cardiac arrest because of the severe trauma, the young woman finally gained freedom from her captors and received the care she needed. Her perpetrators outrageously tried to defend their actions by saying the young woman enjoyed her abuse and liked posing for pornography — 21st-century “truth” in an Isaiah 59 world.1
The Prophet Isaiah’s description of the context of evil and injustice is compelling for the contemporary Christian on several levels. First, the passage is graphically dark, evil, and hopeless in content and eerily descriptive of many global cities today. The writer could easily be describing dark areas of Mumbai, Cairo, Moscow, Johannesburg, or Mexico City that are in the grips of exploitation and violence. Or, as in the case of the news story above, it sadly also depicts small towns in southwest Missouri. The scope is different in rural America, but the tone of tangible evil, its manifested violence, and its effect on victims are the same. Global injustice has come home, with over a quarter of a million children and youth in the U.S. victimized in commercial sexual exploitation each year.2
The unrestrained evil of greed and injustice, so effectively pictured by Isaiah, reminds us of the tragic faces of “dead” girls walking in red-light districts around the world. In the prophet’s words, “… among the strong, we are like the dead” (Isaiah 59:10).
While the dress and demeanor of sexual slavery differ from culture to culture, the eyes do not lie; they are tragically the same the world over. The effect of this extreme darkness and its accompanying sexual violence is the emotional, spiritual, and psychological death of the victims, which leaves empty physical shells in place of once-vibrant, innocent girls. Just as God created women and children to worship Him with body, mind, and spirit, evil injustice destroys body, mind, and spirit — creating seemingly hopeless shame that separates its victims from God.
The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; He put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due. From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory … (Isaiah 59:15–19).
God is not indifferent to injustice and its effects. Isaiah indicates God was appalled that there was no one to intervene.
Spiritual darkness does not intimidate God. He stood up to it by sending Jesus, His Son, to intervene with truth, righteousness, and redemption. God’s compassionate response is bold, courageous, and epic. There is nothing tentative, hesitant, or hand-wringing about the tone or words of our Father’s response to the violence and injustice Isaiah describes.
But God’s response demands a response from His children. God was, and is, appalled. Are we? Where is the Church — God’s people — in the face of great spiritual darkness, violence, and injustice? Are we wringing our hands? Have we lost our God-given voice? Or are we responding in the spirit and example of Jesus, whom we follow? These are the kinds of unsettling, prophetic questions that demand deep soul searching and inspire this call to action.
In the face of great darkness and evil, it’s time for God’s people to stand up.
1. Study the life of Jesus through the lens of His compassionate responses to people in need. He is our ultimate model.
Exploring the life of Jesus in the Gospels, His compassionate responses stand out as boldly unique in their historical and cultural context. The people He helped were often the ones society marginalized: children, women, the physically disabled, and the demonized — along with a few scoundrels! It’s not insignificant that those who drew Jesus’ attention 2,000 years ago still represent huge segments of our world’s population today. Not infrequently, they remain devalued, stigmatized, and/or exploited in culture after culture.
If we consider only one of the groups Jesus related to with compassion — children — and view them with His eyes in contemporary world issues, the result is revealing. In the 21st century, of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1.5 billion — two-thirds — are at risk or in crisis.3
Children are among the most mistreated and exploited individuals on the planet.4 Some people press children to serve as soldiers in ethnic conflicts. Others victimize children through sexual abuse and incest, sell them into prostitution, use them as commodities in arranged child marriages, market them to pedophiles in sex tourism, or groom them for child pornography through Internet chat rooms. Some demonic religious rituals call adherents to sacrifice children to idols. Tragically, the list goes on.
Yet the actions and words of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel stand in prophetic contrast: “But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’ ” (Luke 18:16).
As the contemporary Church, we can bless children in our communities and around the world — not only by physically, emotionally, and spiritually reaching out to them in Jesus’ name, but also by training them to practice compassion and bless others in the same ways. God blesses His children with opportunities to be a source of His blessing and compassion to others. While the Church easily grasps that privilege for adults, it’s easy for us to be negligent in enabling, training, and empowering children who love Jesus to do the same. This valuing of children with spiritual responsibility is radical in traditional cultures. But Scripture reveals that the Creator God of heaven and earth, who is above all kingdoms, principalities, and powers, blesses children to bless others.5
Little girls in Mumbai, India, children born into brothels, have prayed some of the most powerful prayers uttered over my husband, David, and me. These little ones who came out of such great Isaiah 59 darkness and evil, experiencing horror I can’t even imagine, learned from their spiritual caregivers that they, too, can call on God in Jesus’ name, and He will hear and answer their prayers.
“Auntie, can we pray for you?”
A frail little girl, whose mother bears the societal stigma of being one of “those women,” humbled and amazed me with that question.
“Of course! I would love for you to pray for me!”
As I knelt on the floor in humility, little girls of 5, 6, and 7 surrounded me — little girls who now knew Jesus and began to pray faith-filled prayers, disarming in their sincerity and simplicity.
“Jesus, You know I am just a little girl, and this is a great woman of God. But Jesus, I know You hear my prayers. Please bless this Auntie! In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Courageous compassion has many faces around our globe. But it takes a bold compassion — like the compassion of Jesus — to bless, restore, and empower those whom the powerful of this world view as weak and unimportant. Through the eyes of Jesus, we see the ones society overlooks as He sees them: potential men and women of God on a healing, life-changing journey.
2. Cultivate, through prayer and Bible study, a growing awareness of the believer’s spiritual and moral authority in Jesus and its accompanying compassionate responsibility to those around us.
Several years before Mother Teresa’s death, our daughters and I had the opportunity to visit her in the Mother’s House in Kolkata. One of the first things that struck me about this unassuming but highly respected figure was the immense strength and courage housed in this woman no larger than our 12-year-old daughter. There was tangible humility and apparent sacrifice, yet great authority.
A wealthy businessman from Kolkata had arranged an appointment with Mother Teresa just before ours. She invited us to sit with them as they met. It quickly became clear that the businessman had come for Mother’s blessing on him, his family, and his prospering textile business. But as he complimented her profusely and began to implore her for a blessing, Mother Teresa interrupted him: “But what will you do for my poor?”
Visibly taken aback, this man of authority attempted again to ask for Mother’s blessing. Again, she cut him off and said with boldness, “But what will you do for my poor?”
When the businessman explained how much he had already done by donating sari material for the poor, Mother Teresa remained undeterred.
“That is good. But what will you do today?”
This diminutive woman’s boldness was remarkable. I’ve since realized she could be so daringly bold because she was genuinely asking for the poor, not for herself. Part of her spiritual commitment was a vow to poverty, which she and her sisters kept faithfully. Thus her concern and action on behalf of the poor and dying of Kolkata had integrity and ethical authority, as they were based on and lived out from Jesus’ compassion for the poor. Her compassionate initiatives were not self-serving but about “her poor” for whom she sacrificially worked and lived.
Clearly, God does not call most of us to the same life and ministry as Mother Teresa. However, we can learn from the bold compassion she lived out and articulated on a daily basis. It was Christ-focused, Christ-initiated, and Christ-impassioned. Her life conveyed a compassion of moral and ethical authority that captivated everyone — the poor and the rich; Hindus, Muslims, and Christians; the smallest child and the greatest statesman.
When personal ambition and profit drive so-called compassion ministries, it undermines the spiritual and ethical authority of the Church. Christlike compassion is a natural outcome of walking close enough to Jesus on a daily basis that we catch His Father’s heart. We weep over those for whom He weeps. We engage with those in need because His love compels us.
3. Courageous compassion demands that we come to terms with our fears. Besides powerfully exposing God’s response to a world of injustice, Isaiah’s description reminds us that injustice, violence, slavery, and evil in all their forms have contexts. They are not mere concepts or social issues that occur in physical, emotional, and spiritual vacuums. While issue-focused conferences are excellent, they can dull the reality and significance of context in understanding and practicing life-changing compassion. HIV/AIDS, homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, sex trafficking, and every other social evil take place in real places with challenging and complex dynamics. And perhaps those things are what we fear most: danger, violence, perversion, hatred, greed, anger, hostility, betrayal, rebellion, disease, treachery, anarchy, and even death.
As 21st-century Christians, we would be Good Samaritans — if only those beaten and robbed and left to die weren’t on the most dangerous, isolated roads in our cities. We would gladly bring Christ’s hope to the Mary Magdalenes of our world — if they didn’t hang out in red-light districts with men in sexual bondage. We would pray prayers of deliverance for demoniacs — if they weren’t so violent and unpredictable. Yes, they would all be welcome in our churches — if only.
But there is good news! Many of Christ’s followers are stirred, not only by the pressing needs in our spiritually dark world, but by the empowering Holy Spirit, who dispels fear and gives His children a holy boldness to act. God’s people around the world are standing up and moving forward, as the Lord breaks chains of doubt and hopelessness (1 John 4:15–19).
This article is adapted from chapter one of the book, Courageous Compassion: Confronting Social Injustice God’s Way, by Beth Grant (My Healthy Church, 2014).
1. “Springfield Man, Four Others Indicted in Sex Conspiracy,” Springfield News-Leader, September 10, 2010: B1.
2. Luke Gilkerson, “$28-Billion-Crime: New Film Shows the Dark Connection Between Sex Addiction and Sex Trafficking,” Covenant Eyes, http://www.covenanteyes.com/pureminds-articles/28-billion-crime-new-film-shows-the-dark-connection-between-sex-addiction-and-sex-trafficking/.
3. Phyllis Kilbourn, Healing for Hurting Hearts: A Handbook for Counseling Children and Youth in Crisis (Fort Washington, Pennsylvania: CLC Publications, 2013).
4. See Dr. Phyllis Kilbourn’s curricula focusing on ministry to specific groups of victimized children worldwide. Crisis Care Training International, “About Curriculum,” http://crisiscaretraining.org/about-crisis-care-training/about-curriculum/. See also Rainbows of Hope, “Resources,” http://rainbowsofhope.org/resourceswp.
5. Douglas McConnell, Jennifer Orona, and Paul Stockley, eds., Understanding God’s Heart for Children: Toward a Biblical Framework (USA: Authentic Media, 2007).