The Real Problem
Somehow I got on the mailing list for a conservative Christian magazine. In this month’s issue, it invokes the Book of Amos, suggesting that a Trump presidency may reverse certain trends that have caused us to run afoul of God. These include big government and a shrinking middle class. Elsewhere the magazine condemns a smaller military, failure to confront enemies and potential enemies (including the EU), and toleration of homosexuality.
There’s just one problem. I’ve read Amos. You should, too. It’s not that long.
Amos’s complaints against Israel were many, but they fell into just a few categories. First, the wealthy kept all the money, “who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth” (2:7a). Inequitable business practices (2:7b), unjust loans (2:8), violence and theft in the name of wealth (3:10), and living in luxury while those around them struggle (4:1b) featured prominently. Second, the Israelites believed that their wealth and comfort came from their own effort and military strength, not God (6:13). There is a brief and symbolic mention of sexual immorality (2:7c). Positioned as it is between complaints about business practices, this is surely a reference to Israel “getting into bed” with foreign nations (see Jeremiah 3). But his biggest complaint is that the Israelites ignored those people God sent to criticize them (2:11-12), and instead pretended they loved God, worshiping him with their lips while ignoring his commandments and his prophets (5:18-24). God was unimpressed by their praise in the absence of right living.
Can you see the pattern here? It echoes God’s conversation with Samuel centuries before (1 Samuel 8:6-7) in which God says trusting a strong, central government is rejecting God. Throughout the prophets, God rebukes Israel and Judah for relying on military force, foreign alliances, and unjust business practices. When Amos says that Israel has turned from God, he’s not referring to Ba’al but to the nation’s reliance on self-power.
If Amos has anything to say to us, it’s not about homosexuality or school prayer. It’s not about failing to grow our military.
No, Amos reminds us that at every step, we have relied on conventional power. We’ve supported dictators and overthrown democratic governments to get the cheap oil we want. We’ve (erroneously) claimed that lowering taxes on the rich somehow benefits the poor. We’ve judged and executed, as if the mantle of God himself was on our shoulders.
If we believe, as this magazine does, that the U.S. is special to God, the words of Amos should cause us to quake.
“You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)
And we are reminded that God loves all peoples, not just us.
“Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, oh people of Israel? says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?” (Amos 9:7)
Being God’s special people does not mean we get to trample on others. It does not mean we get to be more selfish. On the contrary, we’re held to a higher standard. That’s a standard that I would venture to say we have not met.