“Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.” (Amos 5:14-15)(NIV)
“Getting down to business.”
On the day I was sworn into the bar of Maryland, my father (also a lawyer) gave me a card inscribed with this passage from Amos. That pursuit of justice – the yearning for good to triumph over evil – is what spurned me toward three years and ten weeks of seemingly interminable preparation for the bar exam. I suppose there are lots of law school newbies who, at some point, have felt the same way. The concept of doing good is vitalizing – it’s noble, magnanimous, high-minded. But it’s easy to say you love justice. It’s another thing entirely to be just. Just ask the Israelites.
The entire book of Amos focuses on the hypocrisy of the Israelites, who, though they loved their religious feasts and burnt offerings (Amos 5:21-22), were utterly loveless, uncharitable “cows” (Amos 4:1). Their religious rituals were nothing but “clanging cymbals” (1 Cor. 13:1). In an era of new-found prosperity under Jeroboam II, the Israelites weren’t sharing the wealth. Rather, their poor were oppressed, officials were bribed, privileges were secured through payoffs, and there was nary an honest businessman to be found (in Amos’ day, for example, ruthless bankers requiring collateral sometimes stripped their poor clients of the clothes on their backs). Amos, Hosea and Jonah were all contemporaries, prophets of the day, and they had their hands full. They predicted destruction for those who had turned their backs on God, and pleaded for a return to God’s justice and decency. Their messages were ultimately the same: “it’s time to get down to business.”
I have since left the practice to be home with three small children, and hadn’t read Amos 5:14-15 in years. That’s why coming across it again was like finding an old friend. I was reminded that it isn’t just for “officers of the court” to love justice and seek good. It is for all of us. Particularly now. Because it takes only about five minutes of the national news on any given day to discover exactly how cruel and inhumane we all still are, three thousand years later. That’s why it’s time to stop “saying” the Lord is with us, just as the Israelites did, and actually have Him be. God’s promise is just that if we seek good, not evil; if we put an end to namby-pamby Christianity; if we are bold in loving and living the Truth – no matter how hard. As for me and my house, it’s time to get down to business.
Heavenly Father, you reminded us, centuries after your servant Amos, that you would spit those who were lukewarm in their affection for You “out of your mouth” (Revelation 3:16). I do not, dare not offend You with my mediocre brand of Christianity. Kill every hypocritical proclivity in my heart. Make me love justice not only because of its inherent nobility, but because its originator is the only, truly Just being in the whole of the universe. Help me to love, live and impart Your justice and Your truth. Amen.
From the archives. Originally published September 22, 2009.