By Rob Johnson
We are continuing to learn so much from BayUP. This last Saturday, we spent the entire day together with the other BayUP teams studying the Biblical book of Amos. The study included a mixture of classic Intervarsity inductive Bible study (better known as “Stay within the text!”), powerful commentary from local pastor Michael McBride, creative responses, and time spent contemplating how the themes of the text relate to the world of today. For those of you unfamiliar with Amos, the book consists of a series of prophecies warning Israel and the surrounding nations to abandon their unjust ways or face God’s judgment on their wrongs. In particular, Amos portrays God as deeply concerned with economic justice, calling out the nation of Israel for the ways their society systematically exploited the poor and the vulnerable. The book opens with the image of God as a roaring lion, announcing His anger with the oppression He sees and His willingness to do something about it.
It seems odd to think that a text of social critique written for an agrarian society over 2700 years ago could be relevant to today. But once the layers of images specific to the original context were peeled back, we discovered a striking resemblance between the issues confronted in Amos and those we’ve been learning about this summer. If anything, the principle critique of a society in which the poor are oppressed and neglected while the wealthy live in ever-increasingly decadent leisure is more relevant to post-Industrial America than it was to ancient Israel. God’s rejection of Israel’s worship stood out in particular, proclaiming that their songs of praise were like noise to Him unless they “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” in the words of the book’s most famous image. (Amos 5:24) Amos definitely challenged us to examine the ways in which we’re complicit in oppression and have been only worshipping God in ways that are convenient to us rather than seeking justice as He desires. I know that we will continue to wrestle with these ideas long after BayUP ends.
Outside of Amos, our group has had to face some of the harder realities of the city’s brokenness recently. Within the last week, four men have dropped out of the Cityteam recovery program. While one is starting recovery over at Cityteam San Francisco, we don’t really know where the other three have gone. We had made friends with these men, holding out a lot of hope that they would all make a full recovery, and so it’s been difficult to face the fact that that’s not happening this time around. Meanwhile, during the program nights we’ve been engaging with the brokenness of the education system, the immigration system, and the sex industry in Oakland, all of which seem hopelessly twisted and complex. It’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking about the greatness and gravity of these problems, and tempting to just throw up one’s hands in despair.
But in the midst of such darkness, we still refuse to give up hope. Our God is still the God of Amos, filled with compassion for the poor and oppressed. Just as God roared like a lion at the injustices of ancient Israel, He is roaring at these daunting issues we face today, and just like back then He won’t relent until justice rolls down like a mighty flood. Aslan* is on the loose in Oakland, restoring lives and transforming our broken society. It’s not our responsibility to save the world, but merely to join God in His great work of redemption. And when the brokenness of the world stretches out so far beyond our capacity to fix it, that’s the most reassuring thing I can think of.
“The LORD saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede. Then His own arm brought Him salvation, and His righteousness upheld Him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head. He put on garments of retribution for clothing, and wrapped Himself in zeal as a cloak.” (Isaiah 59:15b-17)
*The lion representing God in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia