I’ll be honest; the eighth chapter of Amos is difficult for me to read. I am not inspired, encouraged, or pushed to dream a bigger prophetic vision. Instead, my stomach is turned. My initial indifference quickly gives way to anger. Who thought including this in the Bible and/or the lectionary was a good idea? The God of Amos comes across as bloodthirsty, a malevolent killer, and torturer. Why would we preach a story where God rationalizes a scene from a concentration camp in the name of justice? In Bosnia and Rwanda, men have been charged with war crimes for less.
Read Amos’ words:
“There will be many corpses, thrown about everywhere.” (8:3)
It gets worse, God promises to destroy climate, crops, as well as the emotional and physical welfare of His people.
“On that day, says the Lord God,
I will make the sun go down at noon,
And will darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your feasts into sad affairs
And all you’re singing into funeral songs;
I will make people wear mourning clothes
And shave their heads.
I will make it like the loss of an only child,
And the end of it like a bitter day.
The days are sure coming, says the Lord God,
When I will send hunger and thirst on the land
neither a hunger for bread, nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the Lord’s words. (8:9-11)
What makes this so painful are the funeral songs I’ve heard this week, in places like Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Saint Paul. People are wearing their mourning clothes. I have images of shaven headed inmates at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Dachau burned into my memory. These are real images of real evil done by real people. God, real people lost their only children! Those children aren’t coming back. No amount of scripture will restore a human life or feed an empty stomach. The death of the past week was not a promise. It was a fact of life on a Tuesday morning and a Thursday night.
Our lives hurt and words like this don’t help. I don’t need to read God’s words as threats, promises, or eight century BC chest thumping. God is not supposed to do these things. You, the creator of the universe, aren’t supposed to speak like a brutal killer. Last week, Micah Johnson did these things. Brutal dictators who use genocide as a means of ethnic cleansing talk like this. The God I learned about in my mother’s Sunday school class didn’t speak this way. I don’t like this at all.
We need to remember what we’ve inherited and how dangerous this book can be. Sometimes the danger is good and at other moments it is hurtful. Right now, the last thing we need is the Bible to bring us pain. Isn’t that part of America’s problem, we not aware of how much pain we’re bringing in the first place? If we don’t want to talk about endemic racism of pre-Jim Crow America, the United Methodist Church is not going to talk about the violence and genocide at the heart of scripture. We have more important things to do.
While the great and the good are praying their way through Episcopal elections at jurisdictional conferences and condemning an onslaught of racial violence, we’ve been given this gem of a passage condoning divinely ordained genocide. So how uncomfortable are we with violence and death in the name of justice? My fear is we’re uncomfortable enough to pray and protest through the week and just comfortable enough to come home, don the prophetic mantle and preach genocide. Sadly, our arms aren’t long enough to pat ourselves on the back for the good job we’ve done. We’ll have to be comfortable telling each other, “congratulations for being so self-aware”.
Between you and me, we have to do better.