All of us have our ideas and images of God. We get these ideas and images from our families and from our experience - these are important sources of our knowledge of God. But as well as these sources, we have another very important source for knowing who our God is - the Bible.
The Bible gives us many descriptions of God; but the most basic description is that, the God of Jesus is a God who sets free the oppressed.
It means that in the Bible, tradition God is not some far-away being. God is not distant. God is not aloof. No, the God of the Bible is a God-with us, Emmanuel. But God is not with us in any sort of way. No, God acts in a very special way in human history as a liberating power; In fact, God takes sides in history. God is not neutral, doing a balancing act between the rich and poor, between the powerful and those on the margin, between the important people, and the nobodies. Instead, the extraordinary belieft of the Bible is that God shows a very special love for the poor, those on the margin, the downtrodden and the oppressed, the nobodies, the little and the forgotten people, and the lost.
We can say this because the fundamental experience of the Bible is that a free God jumped into history to set free a group of oppressed labourers in Egypt. The compassion of God for the oppressed people and the action of God on their behalf is the foundational story of the Bible, which Jesus knows very well and builds his ministry about. This is how the Bible tells it: "I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their task masters; I know their suffering and I have come to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them out to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey..."
God invited Moses to be his representative when he said to him: "Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the Sons of Israel out of Egypt." (Exodus 37).
In the following extract, Jesus tells us who He is and what mission is from God and there is no doubt where He stands.
"The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. For he has send me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind, new sigh to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour." (Luke 4,18)
This understanding of God is for many of us very well knew, but it is also very powerful, very supportive and very challenging. It has motivated many poor and oppressed people, to look to their God and to look to the Bible in a new way. Many people oppressed by the high and mighty of this world, who have been brought up in the Catholic tradition, are looking to the Bible to see and to ask themselves: "What does the Bible say about our situation of working in dangerous, dirty, difficult and badly paid jobs? Does the God of Bible have anything to say to us as we work in a foreign land? Is it the will of God that we are forced to leave our families and country and live in situations, some of which have been described as being in slavery?"
From the Bible point of view, the answer to these questions is that God is deeply interested and commited to the situation of people who are oppressed and bowed down by the hardness of heart and oppression of others.
"Pie in the sky when you die" is not the answer of our God to these situations. Instead, the Good News of the Bible is that our God, the Good News of the Bible is that our God, the God of the Bible, is passionately committed to those imprisoned in unjust situations. In the Bible story, our God has put an end to such situations of oppression whether caused by tyrants, rich and powerful exploiters, or sin. Such situations are definitely NOT his will. God wants an end to all such situations and has in fact initiated, through Jesus, a new human and world order. This is his challenge to our world of sin.
The challenge of our God to the oppressor and rich exploiter of other human beings, is to STOP such evil and free themselves from the power of 'mammon' so that they can become truly human. And perhaps, the greatest challenge of God to the victim of oppression, is the same as it was to the slaves he let out of Egypt, namely, to join with Jesus in forming an alternative community, witnessing to the God of Life, a community where freedom replaces exploitation, truth replaces falsehood, the thrist for justice prevents explotation, real community replaces the divisions that exist, and compassion and love shine like a bright star.