An Ungodly God
"You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." (Amos 3:1) One reason I believe in God is that the God who reveals himself in the Bible is not anything like one I might conjure up on my own. Those who blow off biblical theist like to charge us with being so needy that we have to have a supreme being to depend on, to guide us and to provide for us. To have a god is a sure sign of weakness or worse.
So let's grant the charge. Would anyone cook up a god who promised to punish him dearly for all this wrong doing?
Oh, it gets better! Or worse!
"Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, 'Bring that we may drink!' The Lord God has sworn in his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks." (Amos 4:1,2)
Now that's a pretty picture. Bashan is the region now called the Golan Heights. It has rich pasture lands. The herds were taken there for fattening prior to their slaughter. So Amos' remarks about the spoiled women of Israel cuts two ways. They self-indulgently feed themselves and ignore the needy. They'll soon be led away to the slaughter house.
Methinks God just lost the women's vote.
"Yet you did not returned to me."
Five times in Amos 4 you'll find this line, punctuated by the final phrase, "declares the Lord." Each time God, through his prophet, rehearses for his people specific ways he has disciplined them.
First, He gave them "cleanness of teeth" and "lack of bread." In other words, He made them hungry. Then, He withheld rain so that they wandered about from city to city looking for water to drink. Thirdly He caused blight and mildew and locusts to ravage their gardens and vineyards. Next, He sent pestilence like that experienced by the Egyptians in the days of Moses. Young men died, their horses, carried away. Finally, He destroyed some of Israel's cities like He had Sodom and Gomorrah.
After mentioning each of these, God expressed what seems like surprise and consternation that these measures had not brought about the intended result. "'Yet you did not return to me,' declares the Lord." (Amos 4:6,8,9,10 and 11) From God's point of view Israel's suffering was not a fluke or arbitrary. God deliberately brought it about. He owns his behavior. No sugar-coating, excuses or blame shifting.
God's honesty is refreshing. I like that.
What to think?
Well-intentioned people try soft pedal this harsh edge of God's character. They wind up created for themselves, and for those they influence, another god altogether. The first commandment comes to mind. "You shall have no other god's before me." (Exodus 20:3)
Even the godly shrink from guys like Amos. Have you ever heard a sermon on Amos 4? I remember when Jerry Falwell was berated by both friends and foes for announcing that 7/11 was God's discipline on America. I believe Falwell was wrong to take it upon himself to make such a declaration. Jerry is no Amos. However, what he said may well be true.
If nothing else, Amos teaches us how far God will go to get out attention... and how bull-headed we humans can be. Every personal or national disaster, be it man made or induced by the forces of nature is an act of God. If all the energy expended in denying that were used to examine our hearts and draw near to Him there would be less need for his harsh discipline.
Enter the gospel
Amos' God despises wickedness. His holiness cannot stand the presence of the unholy. So He destroys all who hold dear what is repulsive to Him. But he will not destroy eternally those who, by faith, take refuge in Christ. On the cross the full wrath of God for human sin fell upon Jesus' shoulders. God accepted that as the believer's own payment for his sin. "There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)
Those who are "in Christ Jesus" have a different perspective on God's harshness. Instead of being shocked, we recognize his discipline as an act of God's love. Scotty Smith's prayer captures this beautifully.
"Jesus, you love us so much that when we love you less, you come after us with tenacity and uncomfortable providences. You are unrelenting in your commitment to rescue our hearts from illusions, mirages, broken cisterns, idols, and wannabe lovers. I wish you didn’t have to be, but I am grateful you are so doggedly committed to us." (11/15/12)