Forming Faith Blog

Vulnerability and Resilience (Do Justice)

God’s prophets were concerned about the plight of widows, orphans, and immigrants. These represented economic vulnerability. We need to build resilience to truly do justice.

The word "resilience" on cardboard.
Do Justice, Week 3

Over the past two weeks, I have been writing a series of blog posts (which will eventually become a series of five posts) on the topic of biblical justice, which is also the topic of one of our new Learning Together units “Do Justice.” Two weeks ago, I looked at the foundation of biblical justice: the image of God, with a specific post focus on a Pride Month and gender identity. Last week, I reflected on the goal—or heart—of justice: shalom. Today I’m moving to one of the targets of justice: people who are vulnerable.

Why Widows, Orphans, Aliens?

When we hear the call and command to care for others in Scripture, we often hear about some combination of widows, orphans, and aliens (strangers/immigrants) in our midst. But why? Why focus on these three groups? As far as I understand it, one common thread between these groups is that none of them could own land. For the most part, you had to be an adult, Israelite man to own land. And in an agrarian society, land was the primary and most stable source of sustenance and income. So, widows, orphans, and immigrants did not have a stable means of supporting themselves. That means that they would have to do day-labor or sex-work, or just beg. Even if they had all that they needed at one point, they were not far from poverty.

What Is Vulnerability?

In other words, widows, orphans, and immigrants represented vulnerability. Now, vulnerability is not the same as poverty. Poverty is when someone lacks one or more of the resources needed for survival (or flourishing, depending on how severe the poverty is you are referring to). Vulnerability is one step above that.

Vulnerability is the state when someone might currently have the resources they need to survive, but it would not take much for them to fall into poverty.

You can think of it as lacking the resources to recover when bad things happen.

If you fall and break your arm, will you become bankrupt from the medical bills? Would you lose your job (or at least lose hours) and be unable to buy food or pay rent? The adverse event (bad thing) can really be anything, not just illness or injury. Auto accident? Layoff? Bad harvest? Pandemic? Natural disaster? This is, of course, more of a continuum than a binary. With a sufficiently severe adverse event (or series of them), we all can be seen as vulnerable. But here we’re looking at the more common adversities.

What Is Resilience?

The opposite of vulnerability is resilience. To be resilient does not mean that you are invulnerable to bad things happening.

Resilience means that you have the resources needed to recover from adverse events.

Sometimes, this means having emergency savings. It can also mean a job with sick leave; sufficient education and skills to get another job; access to affordable healthcare so you can get medical treatment without losing your savings; having a healthy body that you can use to provide for yourself and your family.

Resources for resilience can be personal (like the examples above), but they can also be communal and social. You can be resilient if you have family, friends, or neighbors who can help you to recover. And we can also provide resources through government or other larger social systems as often happens at the onset of a disaster.

Sometimes, all we need is a gift. Some food to get us through this rough patch. A grant to help our business survive (say, a pandemic). Someone to watch our kids while we do whatever we need to do. But gifts are only helpful for short-term, acute needs. For a longer term, we need to be empowered to solve our own problems, and we need justice from the systems that oppose us. Check the next post for more on short-term versus long-term love.

Justice over Worship

In Scripture, God makes it clear that support and protection of those who are vulnerable is more important in true worship than even the commanded sacrifices in the temple (Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8; Isaiah 58:6-9; James 1:27).

Now, why would this be? Proper worship seems to be pretty important to God, given how much space in the Torah is spent on worship space and practices. However, I don’t think this means that worshipping YHWH is not important. Instead, it connects back to the image of God in people and Jesus answering the question about the single greatest commandment with two.

You cannot separate how you treat God with how you treat those who carry God’s image.

As the writer of 1 John says:

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their [siblings], are liars; for those who do not love a [sibling] whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

1 John 4:20

But that is more the topic of the next blog post.

Faith Formation

How can you tie the ideas of vulnerability and resilience into your faith formation setting?

  1. Teach vulnerability and resilience. This would be the most obvious way to tie this information in to your context. While you might not be able to go into great depth with our youngest disciples, it is possible to teach them the basics.
  2. Build resilience in service. As you look into how to integrate service (love in action) into your group or class, keep in mind a goal of helping vulnerable populations build resilience. Meeting urgent needs is of vital importance but cooperating with people to build resilience is better for long-term change.
  3. Be sensitive as you lead. In our faith formation resources, we try to include a reminder in appropriate places that you may or may not know your participants’ past or present experiences. I think it’s best to assume that at least one of your participants fits the definition of vulnerable now, has in the past, or knows someone who has. Be cognizant of everyone’s language so that any teaching or conversation doesn’t accidentally move into an “us” (the helpers) and “them” (those needing help).

Blessings to you as you do your ministry,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

VBS, Summer, and 2022-2023 Faith Formation Resources

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