CHARACTERISTICS OF A MARGINALIZED INDIVIDUAL
Nehemiah - In Nehemiah, the marginalized group is the Jews, similar to what we see in the book of Esther. In Biblical times, the oppressed and vulnerable were the poor, the widowed, the immigrant and the slave. This group eventually expanded to include the sex worker, the disabled, the chronically ill, and those cast out by authority that sought gains at the losses of others (McCain & Sherman, 2009). Many of these same groups still exist among us today. We have created other groups, as well. There are people excluded/marginalized in our society because of their race, gender, or legal status.
"Minorities in our society are often looked down upon, if ever looked at."
Esther - In Esther, Mordecai is seen going to the gates of the city and weeping in a sackcloth with ashes. These were used to show mourning and debasement, as Mordecai was reacting to the decree that went out into the land to destroy the Jews, which was also his fault. The Jews did the same as well. Therefore, in another sense of characteristics, the Jews were marginalized because of their belief system. (Esther 4:1-2)
Job - According to a study by Hensing, Brage, Nygard, Sandanger, and Tellnes (2000) when people receive psychiatric disorder diagnoses, they are at a high risk of becoming marginalized because of stigmatization and are likely to be diagnosed with depression later on as a result. Although the study focuses primarily on the effects of marginalization in men specifically, it also highlights the fact that depression is a common characteristic of becoming marginalized. (Job 17:1, 7)
Psalms - Although, David made poor choices that led to isolation throughout his life, he was also marginalized because of his good character, which fueled envy in Saul. (Psalms 59:3) Also, we see the Psalmist crying out to the Lord to save those who are weak, in another passage. Marginalized individuals are often perceived as powerless, needy, and less than others because of their current circumstances. (Psalms 82:3-4)
HOW DO PEOPLE/GROUPS BECOME MARGINALIZED?
Nehemiah - The Jews were left without much because of their sin – the consequence being Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction. For over 100 years, no one helped their city after being destroyed. However, Nehemiah was called to lead them in rebuilding Jerusalem. As others heard about this, Nehemiah became greatly opposed for wanting to advocate for the people of Israel. In Chapter 2, it states that when “Saballat and Tobiah heard [about Nehemiah's mission to rebuild the walls] it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel." Later in the story we see that they begin to turn back to their ways which infuriates Nehemiah. (Nehemiah 13:17-18)
Esther - The Jews in the book of Esther were marginalized simply because their leader, Mordecai, would not bow down to Haman and submit to the law because it contradicted the Jewish law and would be dishonoring to the Lord. (Esther 3:5-6) Also, people can be marginalized because of others' wickedness, which is shown through Haman. We can see that persecution from people can easily cause isolation of an individual or group. Examples of this may include bullying or persecution of the church.
Job - To reiterate, there are many ways people become marginalized by society, such as poverty, as seen in Job 1:13-17. Another instance that may lead to marginalization is a decrease/loss in health (Job 2:7-8).
Psalms - David had to flee from others multiple times as a result of his favor with God. For example, David had to flee from Absalom, his son, who wanted to become king and was willing to kill his father for the title (Psalms 3). Another time David faced marginalization was when Saul sent out men to watch for David and kill him, although he had done nothing wrong (Psalms 59:3).
IN WHAT WAYS DOES MARGINALIZATION AFFECT SPIRITUALITY?
Nehemiah - Not only was Nehemiah concerned for the physical needs of the Jews, he also sought to restore them spiritually. When the news of the state of Jerusalem first got to Nehemiah, he responded by fasting for days and praying for four months (Nehemiah 1:4-10). He asked God for favor and claimed biblical truths about God's promises. Throughout the entire story, Nehemiah regularly prayed to God for guidance and instruction. In the last seven books, Nehemiah's focus is spiritually rebuilding the city. And so Nehemiah works with Ezra the priest to revive the Jews, holding an assembly within the city to publicly read the Law.
Esther - Mordecai helped Esther to realize that the Lord had put her exactly where she was in order to be an advocate for her people. She and her servants fasted and prayed, as she urged other Jews to do as well. She recognized that even if she was to lose her life for the sake of her people, then it would be the Lord's will. Therefore, it can be seen that Esther's spiritual life was strengthened in a time of adversity. (Esther 4:14-16)
Job - Feeling an incredible level of insignificance brings people to the point where they must ask how God is involved in their lives and decide in which way they will respond. They can either curse God and wish to die as Job's wife recommended (Job 2:9), or can remain steadfast and receive all that God gives - both the blessings and the trials (Job 2:10). Laura Story wrote a song, Blessings, where she challenges listeners to consider that some of God's blessings come through raindrops and God's healing comes through the pain in our tears. (Job 9:5-12)
Psalms - While fleeing from Absalom and from Saul, David remained confident in the Lord's protection and faithfully sought out God. He sang praises to the Lord and recited truth of His steadfast love and strength in the midst of hard times (Psalms 59:16). However, it can also have negative affects in that it may lead to a desire to seek revenge, as well as hopelessness. (Psalms 82:3-5, 109)
SUPPORTING MARGINALIZED INDIVIDUALS
Nehemiah - Nehemiah had sadness in his heart that was recognizable by others, such as the king, who asked Nehemiah what he wanted? Nehemiah, after describing his city's condition, asked the king for the resources and time needed to rebuild the walls. As Christians, we hear bad news frequently, especially concerning the condition of communities within our country. But what will we do about it? Although our current wall-building efforts are important, it is also critical that we continue to call forth new Nehemiahs by bringing awareness to the support needed.
Esther - We can stand up and be an advocate like Esther, who was willing to put everything on the line for her people. We can speak on behalf of those who are being hurt and/or marginalized. We can also be initiators, like Mordecai. Because Mordecai was a Jew and discriminated against as a result, He could not go in front of the king. Therefore, he went to Esther to have her go before him. He made it known that even if she had chosen not to obey the Lord and be an advocate, deliverance would still come. However, if she did not go to the king herself, then she would face the same consequences of the other Jews (Esther 4:13-14). We also see that Esther fasted and prayed faithfully, which is a reminder to not ignore the spiritual needs. In sum, Esther emphasizes human action in the recognition of, and the response to, the threats of the eternal Haman (Leder, 2015).
Job - Best way we can support is exemplified in Job's friends at first (Job 2:11-13). As seen, by grieving with marginalized individuals we gain a better understanding of their affliction. We must be careful of what we say as well. For as soon as Job's friends opened their mouths, they gave him unhelpful advice. Only one of them mentioned correctly that his suffering was meant in part to humble Job before the Lord.
Psalms - Psalms 27:1 states "The Lord is my light and salvation whom shall I fear? The Lord is my strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" Advocating for others will have its challenges and many situations may cause fear, however, we can find peace in our faith. At times we may not be able to identify with marginalized individuals yet we still have a purpose to fulfill to which we are called. Even when the answers are not obvious to us, there is no need to be afraid or feel ashamed. There are still many ways to be supportive towards those in need.