Thursday, August 8, 2013

God Demands Social Justice

Amos of Tekoa
Today is the fourth day in our 31st week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures* today are:  Amos 4-6; Matthew 14; Psalm 55.

In Psalm 55:9b-11, David expresses his frustration over the lack of justice and righteousness among God's people.  

 ...For I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they go around it
    on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11     ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
    do not depart from its marketplace.

Likewise, the prophet Amos decries the people's depravity, their unrighteousness, and their lack of justice.  Through the prophet, God declares judgment on a nation that perverts justice and seeks only its own gain.  Amos 4:1-3 says:

“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan,
    who are on the mountain of Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
    who say to your husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’
The Lord God has sworn by his holiness
    that, behold, the days are coming upon you,
when they shall take you away with hooks,
    even the last of you with fishhooks.
And you shall go out through the breaches,
    each one straight ahead;
    and you shall be cast out into Harmon,”
declares the Lord.

And again, in Amos 5:11-12:

11 Therefore because you trample on the poor
    and you exact taxes of grain from him,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
    but you shall not dwell in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
    but you shall not drink their wine.
12 For I know how many are your transgressions
    and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
    and turn aside the needy in the gate.

God has compassion for the poor and needy, and will not abide those who trample such fragile folk underfoot.  He declares destruction for such a nation.  Amos 6:11, 14 says:

11 For behold, the Lord commands,
    and the great house shall be struck down into fragments,
    and the little house into bits...
14 “For behold, I will raise up against you a nation,
    O house of Israel,” declares the Lord, the God of hosts;
“and they shall oppress you from Lebo-hamath
    to the Brook of the Arabah.”

In His righteousness, God cannot all an unrighteous nation to remain intact, and still be called His people.  God is just, and demands justice from His people.  Yet, destruction isn't God's will--reformation is.  God would rather see His people return to Him, repent of their sins, and be cleansed.  Even as He warns the people, He pleads with them to return to His righteous standards.

For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel:  "Seek me and live."  (Amos 5:4)

"Seek the Lord, and live."  (Amos 5:6)

14 Seek good, and not evil,
    that you may live;
and so the Lordthe God of hosts, will be with you,
    as you have said.
15 Hate evil, and love good,
    and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
    will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)

But this seeking after God must not be mistaken for seeking after religion.  Too many people "get religion," when in reality they need to "find God."  Religion never saved anybody.  In fact, God hates our religious exercises if our hearts are not right with Him.

21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
    I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  (Amos 5:21-24)

I love that last verse!  What poetry, and what truth!  God demands more than religion--God expects our religion to translate into acts of social justice.  Just as Jesus was anointed to set free those who are oppressed, so are all believers who follow Him.  People who call themselves "Christians," yet who take advantage of the poor, deny basic human rights to minorities, marginalize the outcasts, and ignore the pleas of the hurting, aren't really Christians at all.  They're just religious people.  

But a word of caution is needed here for all those Liberation Theology folks out there.  (Click here, and also here, to read more about Liberation Theology.)  While social reform can be good, and political activism may be a means to that end, we must keep in mind that seeking righteousness is not the same thing as seeking God.  Seeking justice is not the same thing as seeking the Lord.  God says, "Seek me and live."  This means seeking a personal relationship with the living Lord who loves us, who nurtures and sustains us.  This is where social justice should truly begin--not from a political platform, but from a heart that has been changed and renewed by God.

Hosea 6:1-3, 6 echoes Amos' sentiment.

“Come, let us return to the Lord;
    for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
    he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”
...For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

I pray that you'll seek righteousness and justice...but I pray also that you will seek God.  Because it's only by seeking God Himself--and not social reform--that people may have eternal life.

*Scriptures taken from the ESV.

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