I try to imagine the prophet Amos at a fancy cocktail party. He would be that guy, who seeing your new Mercedes in the driveway, would be compelled to go into detail about global warming from greenhouse gases, then move on without a breath to discuss the appalling inequalities of wealth between the richest and the poorest.
As you try to escape his conversational grip to enjoy that first sip of your martini, he would remind you of how much grain goes into making spirits that could be used to feed the hungry.
Such imaginings are pure fancy, of course, since people like Amos, obsessed with justice and injustice, never get invited anywhere because they are too depressing to be around.
And his hard words seem even more dire when you realize that Amos’ warnings aren’t merely grumpy pronouncements, but were understood as the Word of God delivered by the prophet.
So listen to what God says about religious practices:
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.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
If we picture the twin pillars of Jesus’ summary of the law, love of God and love of neighbor, as the vertical dimension and the horizontal dimension, why is it that our conceptions of Christian hope are almost exclusively focused on the vertical?
How many of our questions about the future are about our individual relationship with God? “What happens to me after I die? Will I be saved?”
Do not passages such as this one from Amos remind us that God is very much concerned not only with what we might call our religion or spirituality, but also with justice and righteousness; not only about the health of the individual soul, but also about the health of the shared life in community?
And so our imaginings about Christian hope would be more biblical and faithful if they included a social dimension, as we think about both here and hereafter.
There is plenty of rich imaginative material in the Bible to work with. For example, in Revelation 21 the future in the end time is a city, a New Jerusalem, described like this:
Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
It is a vision of a community with God at the center, where God’s love has overcome all that afflicts our world including injustice. And one interesting feature of this new community is that there is no temple in it. That’s right, no need for religion, which apparently is God’s provisional strategy to get us from here to there.
So in the meantime, we need to ask ourselves as we imagine the future of our world, “Is there room in our hope for justice?”
Photo: R.L. Floyd