Hey, friends. I was gung ho to release a writing I had been working on about leading worship, one of my favorite topics to teach on, but I changed my mind. I’ll save that one for next time. Instead, I want to look at something different.
“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?” Micah asks in Micah 6:6-8. “Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
The chapter is fascinating in that it plays out like a courtroom drama. God has lodged a legal complaint against His people Israel. It would seem that they had maintained religious practices but had neglected to tend their hearts. In verses 11 and 12 God asks, “Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights? Her rich men are violent; her people are liars and their tongues speak deceitfully.”
Micah, knowing how his contemporaries would respond, asks on their behalf, “Well, should the truly repentant soul burn hundreds of sin offerings on the altar of contrition? Or maybe we should go overboard with slaughtering rams? Or maybe that’s not enough either. Maybe I should sacrifice my child! That’s true penance.”
The twinge of facetiousness pricks deeply.
His well-made point is that God is less interested in “impressive” feats of penance, and more interested in heart change. In other words, saying, “I’m sorry,” isn’t especially meaningful if the transgressor doesn’t actually change his ways—or, I should say, consciously allow Jesus to reshape his heart and intentionally practice obedience to love. Isn’t that what true repentance is anyway, though? Acknowledging personal sin is utterly key in receiving salvation, since it causes us to acknowledge our desperate need for salvation in the first place—but anyone who willfully returns to his sin over and over again is not bearing the fruit of salvation (1 John 3:6). Repentance ought to set in motion transformation.
No, God says, “Saying, ‘I’m sorry’ is a great start, but I’ve already told you what I want from My people. Justice. Mercy. Humility.”
Oh, Jesus. Please forgive us.
Please forgive my nation. Please forgive me.
I look around and see how often justice is avoided, how often mercy is withheld, and how often pride ruins us. My friends, I am broken. My heart is grieving. Here in America—oh, my!—we need Micah to preach to us. And we need to listen and repent.
Friends, the day we are living in is charged with tension and unrest. Tension often enacts change, though, so I welcome the tension. Much of the conversation at the time of my writing revolves around how to change a broken system so that it more fairly affects blacks. Oh, how God loves black people of all shades, ethnicities, and cultures—each one is carefully made in His image!
The problem is big, and the solution is deeply multi-layered, at least. Some are calling for statements and passionate vocal allies from whites. Others want the opposite, asking instead for whites to listen and quietly learn. Some say whites need to champion the cause, out on the front lines of protests and legislation. Others say whites should not attempt to solve anything lest it contribute to the white savior complex. I want to help the way I should, and I pray I am. But I’m not an expert. I am, though, committed to learning and adapting so that I can better love, and so better represent Jesus.
I hope you are, too.
But perhaps you are skeptical of the idea of systemic racism in America, or confused by the protests and the outcries. Perhaps you don’t understand why people are chanting, “Black lives matter,” instead of, “All lives matter.” Here’s what I pray you do observe, though. A large community of humans, bonded by their race, is grieving. What is the appropriate response from a Spirit-filled believer to someone in grief? What does the Bible say is God’s attitude toward the brokenhearted?
Or maybe you are not confused or skeptical… maybe you think it’s all blown out of proportion. Would you allow me to be frank with you? That’s not the right attitude to have, friend. If you feel uncomfortable with the larger discussion happening in the world today, that’s probably a “check engine” light for your heart.
Now, your context may look different from mine. Do what you need to do in your context with your sphere of influence to bring about justice, mercy, and humility. Yes, do what you need to do. You probably need to do something.
And, in addition to our various actions, here’s what we all can do.
God said, “If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Let’s pray for justice. Let’s pray for mercy. Let’s pray for humility. And our prayers, joined with faith-filled actions, will change the landscape of our nation for the better.