By Sonja DeWitt | 20 June 2019 |
Recently I have heard several versions of the following sentiment voiced by good pious Christians.
- Why should we care if children are placed in cages and shot in schools?
- Why should we care if Christians are misrepresenting God and trying to make America into a “Christian” white supremacist paradise?
- Why should we care about racists, xenophobes and misogynists masquerading as God’s chosen messengers?
- Why should we care about economic juggernauts that destroy the environment and trample on the rights of the poor and vulnerable?
- Why should we care about women being harassed and assaulted by powerful sexual predators?
- Why should we care that our leaders are wantonly destroying the Earth?
- We should be happy because those are signs that Jesus is coming soon!
Now, of course, they don’t always use exactly those words. But that is the underlying philosophy.
That is not the viewpoint of the God of the Bible, however. After some reflection, I recalled that the one of the Old Testament prophets specifically addresses pious people anxiously awaiting “the Day of the Lord”—just as we Seventh-day Adventists say we are doing. I was forcibly struck by the uncanny parallels between Israel at the time of the prophet Amos and America in the 21st century.
Amos emphatically condemns greed, oppression, corruption and evil. He specifically condemns a nation where people claim to be righteous and waiting for the “Day of the Lord,” but are more concerned about their own welfare and their selfish interests than about the needs or the suffering of the poor, vulnerable or marginalized. A nation where the courts are corrupt and government favors the rich. Where the poor and vulnerable are trampled underfoot.
“There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
and detest the one who tells the truth.
“You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain.
“Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.
“For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.” (Amos 5:10-12)
It is also a nation that is proud of its “righteousness” and is devoted to “a form of Godliness.” But God forcefully expresses His indignation against those who claim to be His people and make a show of serving Him, while involved in the evil and unjust activities He hates, and turning their backs on the suffering of others:
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.”
He explains why He hates their worship.
“You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols,
the star of your god—which you made for yourselves. (Amos 5:25, 26)
And explains what He really wants from His people
“But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Then Amos gives counsel for escaping the judgment of God.
“Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.”
But if God’s people do not take this counsel to heart and repent of their greed, oppression, selfishness, and corruption, and their indifference to the suffering of others, God gives them severe warnings.
“Therefore this is what the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, says:
“There will be wailing in all the streets
and cries of anguish in every public square.
The farmers will be summoned to weep
and the mourners to wail.
There will be wailing in all the vineyards,
for I will pass through your midst,” says the Lord.
“Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
“as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
“Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?”
Lest you think this is only an Old Testament idea, I remind you that Jesus said pretty much the same thing. He concludes the well-known sheep-and-goats parable of Matthew 25-31-46 by saying of those who didn’t feed or clothe the poor or visit those in prison, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
In their requirements for being right with God neither Amos nor Jesus say anything about keeping the Sabbath. They say nothing about health reform, or work for the church, or even evangelism. To the contrary, both make clear that ritual acts of piety do nothing to impress God, and may even displease Him if one’s heart is not right. The only requirement for eternal life cited by both Amos and Jesus is having a heart that cares about the needs and the suffering of the poor, the downtrodden and the vulnerable.
It sounds to me like the Bible teaches all the way through that if we don’t care about alleviating the suffering and oppression of others on Earth, Jesus may not come for us!
Sonja DeWitt is a civil rights attorney with over 20 years of experience handling Equal Employment Opportunity cases. She has a strong interest in religious liberty and has worked with the North American Religious Liberty Association, for which she received an award. She blogs about religion, politics and government, and social justice at www.voicesfromthewilderness.net,