Question: when the slave cries out to God for liberation from his oppression, is he crying out to the same God the master appeals to for a bountiful crop? It is a fascinating question, one that has been asked many times and in many different ways over the years. Is it possible that the oppressed and those who willfully oppress them do indeed cry out to the same deity: one in support of liberation and one in support of oppression? Even in 2012, the jury is still out on that question. 

Such questions have shaped the black worship experience. If honest, our theology (how we view, define, worship and understand God and God’s relationship to us ultimately) is shaped by experience. For those who’ve never had a hard day, God is a wonderful God who exists only to extend blessing and reward their wonderful actions. For us who’ve seen much harder days, it is essentially impossible to think that God exists only to bless. We are aware of human suffering and that God isn’t necessarily rushing to stop it. How then can we subscribe to a view of God that excludes those lived realities and present truths? This is the context under which blacks in America have come to know and relate to God. It is a context that necessitates God’s activity in the here and now as opposed to the bye and bye.

It is in this way that I was introduced to God. In my family’s experience, like the slave, we weren’t afforded the luxury of worshiping a distant God that only intervened in the afterlife. If God did not intervene in our day to day, the consequences were severe. I recall our family praying and fasting for the basic necessities: food, school clothes and housing. I remember those family prayer gatherings where we earnestly asked God to bless us in some spiritual, intangible way but most pressing, to bless us with daily bread in the literal sense. We couldn’t afford to have a God that sat idle in the heavens. We needed God to intervene radically everyday for survival. It is because the situation necessitated that type of God that I understood God in this way. Frankly, many others do not.

One might argue that while we understand and relate to God differently, God’s universality makes it possible that we cry to the same God. Certainly I do not battle that. God must be universal. Yet I still wrestle with the idea that those who are suffering and oppressed can cry out for deliverance from those who oppress them while those same oppressors approach the same God to bless that oppression. Yes, we may understand God differently and have different needs but can one God have a character that sanctions and supports the means of the oppressors while also supporting the goals of the oppressed?  The question becomes even more challenging to answer when both sides feel at peace with their God. How is that possible?

4 comments

Duane Terrell

Answer: One prayer has nothing to do with the other. It's no diffrent than if I was asking the Lord to bless my business while at the same time being a comnplete asshole to my employees who are praying to God to find them another job.

God, as we can plainly see, is powerful enough to answer both prayers. Slavery is gone in America and the US is the bread basket of the world. Both prayers answered. (generally speaking)

Now, the answers didn't come easy but does anything worth having ever come easy? How much today do the children take for granted their way of life?

How you relate to God has just as much to do with how you decide to respond to your enviornment as the enviornment itself. Some rich people see their riches as a blessing from God while others begin to believe in their own greatness when they beocme weathly, while others don't beleive in God at all. You can be poor and believe passionatly in God or you can be poor and believe God doesn't want anything to do with you, or not believe in God at all, it depends on who you are talking to.

GLW

"God must be universal. Yet I still wrestle with the idea that those who are suffering and oppressed can cry out for deliverance from those who oppress them while those same oppressors approach the same God to bless that oppression."

The question becomes even more challenging to answer when both sides feel at peace with their God. How is that possible?

I think that is it in the nutshell. Each person feels at peace with their God. If and when you are at peace you have journeyed to the point of evaluation, justification, understanding, contentment, etc. We are definitely reaching for "God", or a "Source", "Light", "Force", whatever that things is that makes us believe and question "Is it more to life that this?"
But we all reach for it differently.
I guess in this case, being an oppressor, you have literally justified oppression with your beliefs and feel fully satisfied in them….
On top of that, some ppl do not believe they worship a universal God. They believe others are serving pagan Gods so 'all Gods are not created equal' according to certain philosophies.
Another good read and something to think abt

D.M Hopewell

I don't doubt God's "bigness" but I'm asking about divine consistency if you will. Is it possible that the same God can honor two, very contradictory principles? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

D.M Hopewell

Thanks so much for the read. Yes, I certainly agree that the critical thing is the comfort all parties have with their deity. How is this possible? I'm unsure that the question will ever be answered in any satisfactory way.

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