Amos, Righteousness and the Heart of God (@nicolahwriter)

Before becoming a Christian one of the biggest problems I had with religion was that people who practised it ought to be a lot, well, nicer. So often I saw religion being used as a tool to tell me what I really should be doing, and what I really shouldn’t be doing, which quite naturally led me to expect that those dispensing with this advice ought to perfect. If they weren’t then what business did they have telling me what to do?

When I did manage to leap the hurdles that religion, in all its human frailty, puts up and first encountered the Bible I realised how funny my view really was. Reading the Bible was like having a great big ‘Well, DUH!’ sign appear over my head. Because the whole of the Bible is like one big catalogue of human errors (as well as a stunning portrait of human dignity and value).

Of course all people, including the religious, failed and fell and made a bloomin’ great mess from time to time. Reading the stories of the Bible our messing up is all but guaranteed. It simply says ‘Sorry, but this is how you lot are’. However it also says ‘Now listen up, this is how we are going to deal with this!’

Amos is thought to be the first prophetic book written and, interestingly he introduces this theme of the Bible right from the off. Like many of the prophets he critiques the tendency of people to say one thing and do another and their failure to do what is plainly the right. This, he states, makes other religious activity completely pointless because morality or rightness or goodness is not a requirement of religion it is the entirety of it. To know God is to grow in goodness and love, or as our English Bible translations call it in ‘righteousness’, because God is righteousness.

Amos

A whole lot of references to Righteousness!

A perusal through my trusty Bible Concordance showed how integral this concept of righteousness is. Abraham is ‘counted righteous’ before God in Genesis (15:6) and the relationship that founded several of the major religions of our day had began. The Psalmist tell us that righteousness is what God loves (Psalm 45), even the natural world shows us the righteousness of God (Psalm 50). Righteousness brings life (Proverbs 11:19), it saves (Isaiah 63:1) and it is, as Amos reminds us, a powerful desire of God for our world (Amos 5:24).

In the New Testament righteousness takes centre stage. Jesus tells us it is what we are called to be and to hunger after (Matthew 3:15, 5:6). Righteousness is the very nature of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). The vision presented in the New Testament of a world restored is one where ‘righteousness dwells’ (2 Peter 3:13). Righteousness is the goal of life, the very heart of God.

And so Amos opens the door for us into an extraordinarily rich theme, even giving us that most precious of things, a glimpse at the nature of God. If we hear Amos’ message clearly, and that of the rest of the Bible, then it should be no surprise to us that all of us, no matter what we profess, sometimes get it so very wrong. Perhaps, then, we ought to tread lightly in our dealings with others realising how very close to the surface our own weaknesses are.

But likewise it should also spur us on. It should remind us that the cry of the heart of God is to ‘let justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’ (Amos 5:24). This is the gift he gives to us in Jesus, the ‘gift of righteousness’ (Romans 5:17). It is the chance to stand up again when we get it wrong and to receive life from God’s very own spirit to our own. That life will bring that righteousness that God craves and this world so desperately needs and in it we will find our freedom.

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