Saturday, August 09, 2008

crazy talk

I've been reading the prophets lately, and I am beginning to feel like a lunatic. One might venture to guess that this is because many of the prophets seemed a little looney themselves. It is not necessarily a sane man who wanders around naked for years and cooks his food over dung in order to pass on some sort of message from the LORD. As uncomfortable as it is for those of us who want to be faithful, God called these folks to act like crazy people at times, often incurring the ridicule of their countrymen, all for the sake of God's message. Yet I am still fully clothed, and I cooked my breakfast over good old natural gas this morning. It is not their actions, but the prophets' message that is making me feel a little crazy.

Th concept of social justice--of God's care for the oppressed and disadvantaged--has become increasingly important to me over the past few years. This year, as I read through the messages of these great speakers for the LORD, I began to circle and note every place where I read the word justice, as well as things like the poor, the orphan, and the widow. And it has been incredible. I had always known that such issues are important to God, but a thorough reading of the Old Testament leaves one with the impression that the issue of justice is very near the top of his list. The breaking point for me came a couple days ago in the form of Jeremiah 22:16, speaking of one of Israel's greatest kings, the young Josiah: He made sure that justice and help were given to the poor and needy... Isn't that what it means to know me?" asks the LORD.

"Isn't that what it means to know me?" What an incredible statement. God says here that to give justice and help to those who truly need it is a critical part of our even knowing him. It calls to mind the scenario painted by Jesus regarding the judgement day (Matthew 25). In the very context of calling them to account for failing to give justice and help to the hungry, thirsty, naked, and imprisoned, Jesus sends them away saying, "I never knew you." Do we hear that? "You did not actively love the least of these, and therefore I never knew you."

This is shaking a lot of foundations for me--hence, the feeling a little crazy. So many assumptions within the church are sounding off kilter. I am thinking in extremes, and it's uncomfortable. Yet I need to go there, need to question painfully before I can come around to balance. And so the doubts ring in my mind.

There's the notion that God means the poor in Spirit, so the CEO who doesn't know him falls into the category. In that case, Christians should make sure to enter that realm and minister to that kind of poor. I don't think I buy that anymore. I think perhaps God meant the poor. The oppressed. The downtrodden. Literally. There's the idea that we can most effectively influence the world by making sure we have believers planted in every realm. If everyone dedicated themselves to justice stuff, we'd miss a lot of folks right? It feels crazy, but I don't think I buy that anymore. More and more, I sense that if the Church (and I don't mean the institution) truly dedicated itself to the disadvantaged--and I mean gave up everything for that cause--there isn't a corner of the world that wouldn't have to take notice.

There are so many things I have taken as givens that I am growing completely uncomfortable with these days. It's a little scary. I feel a little crazy. But I want to answer the call of Hosea 6:3-- "Let us press on to know [God]!" Yes, let us press on to know him. If Jeremiah was anywhere near on target, I'm going to have to factor in a few things when I begin that hunt to know him. I'm going to have to consider the words of God himself:

He made sure that justice and help were given to the poor and needy... Isn't that what it means to know me?" asks the LORD.