When considering how Christians should love others, it’s often easy to look back into history and discover ways in which Christians did not love others well.
For instance, consider the Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr and others didn’t just view the Civil Rights Movement as a means to gain a better seat on the bus or the lunch table, but as a justice issue. God had created all as image bearers, which meant that all people, regardless of skin color, should be treated with dignity and respect. Because Civil Rights was not just a political issue, but a religious issue, King often struggled when southern white clergy did not join the struggle. How could they sing songs of praise on Sunday, and not help their follow Christians on Monday? It’s easy for us now to look back into history and wonder the same question. Why were so many Christians with white skin either indifferent or outright hateful toward the Civil Rights Movement? How could they not understand that this was about loving their neighbors well?
Or, take it back a step further. Why were there so many good Christian people who owned slaves during the early decades of the United States? How did they not know that the buying and selling of human beings was morally wrong? How did good Christian people not see that enslaving other humans against their will was the complete opposite of loving your neighbor as yourself?
It’s easy, at times, to peer back into history and discover the mistakes of the past and wonder why were so many good people on the wrong side of history? Clearly Christians should have known better. What is more difficult is trying to determine in our own lives, where do we fail to love the least of these? In which areas of our lives have we turned a blind eye to the less fortunate? How have we succumbed to the greater culture and accepted hate instead of love?
In Amos 5, the prophet Amos has an interesting discussion about the Day of the Lord. We often look forward to the day of the Lord, or judgment day. Because we have embraced grace, we often view judgment day as a wonderful time when we will finally receive our reward. Israel viewed it in a similar light. The day of the Lord was a day in which Israel’s enemies would finally be defeated and Israel would embrace the good life. Yet Amos says in chapter 5 that the day of the Lord will bring darkness and not light. It will be as if one has escaped from a lion attack, only to be eaten by a bear. The day will not bring joy, but punishment. Why? Because their lives were far from God.
The message that runs throughout the book of Amos is that Israel’s worship is meaningless unless their lives are engaged in serving the poor and hurting. God, through Amos, even claims that Israel’s songs of praise are just loud disturbing noises in God’s ears because Israel is oppressing the poor and taken advantage of the weak. Later, in chapter 5, Amos says God is tired of Israel’s feasts and wants no more of their religious songs, until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (5:24). Israel’s judgment day is a day to be feared because they haven’t been caring for the poor around them.
It makes me wonder, if Amos were writing to us today, what would he say? Would Amos be pleased with our worship? Would God be pleased with our worship? Not our worship as we gather on Sundays to sing songs of praise, but our worship as we live out the love of God to everyone we meet. Not our worship that is internal, but our worship that is external, that reaches out into the forgotten places of our cities and towns and loves the abandoned and broken. Would Amos say that we should look forward to our own judgment day, or would Amos warn us about our impending moment of reckoning? Would God consider our lives a beautiful offering given to God as a living sacrifice, or would it be a stench God hoped to erase?
It’s hard at times to notice our own mistakes, to notice how we’ve accepted the cultural norms around us as normal, instead of fully embracing God’s blessed community. Yet we need self-reflection, because if we want our worship to be pleasing to God it must be rooted in sharing God’s love with others.