News and Articles
7 March 2016
As we come towards the end of our morning series in Amos, John Risbridger reminds us why it’s such an important and powerful book.
Maybe it was because my French wasn’t so good. Maybe it was just that I hadn’t anticipated the slower pace of life in rural Africa. Maybe it was that managing hospitals there was never going to be quite the same as managing them here in the NHS. Whatever the reason, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands during my three-month placement as a young hospital management trainee in D.R. Congo.
The upside, though, was having plenty of time for some of the best quiet times ever, on a veranda looking over the African bush. It was the first time I remember reading the book of Amos (supported by Alec Motyer’s wonderful ‘Bible Speaks Today’ commentary), and I still possess a notebook I filled with all that I learned. The God of Amos was a roaring lion, passionately denouncing the hypocrisy of sham religion, and movingly revealing his heart for the poor, for justice, and for a transformational relationship with his people. I was moved, thrilled, awed, shocked, disturbed. ‘To me, nothing is quite so disturbing as to realise that our religion itself may be an offence to God,’ I wrote one morning. 'This religion was in a box; it made no difference to life!'
I was only 22 at the time and newly married. Life stretched out before us, full of promise. 25 years later, as I returned to the book of Amos for our preaching series, I was more convinced than ever that we must take seriously his vision of God and of what it means to call ourselves God’s people.
The intervening years exceeded our hopes and expectations in many ways. But alongside many joys, we’ve experienced the pain of losing our two sons, the disappointment of a job I loved finishing badly, and the unanswered questions of pastoral life as we have journeyed with others through bereavement, marriage breakdown, mental and physical illness, stress, and redundancy. More widely, a growing exposure to some of the acute needs in our city, and an increasing sense of an unstable world in which brutality and injustice seem to run unchecked, have combined to sharpen my awareness of how broken creation really is.
In such a world, a ‘Father Christmas’ view of God simply will not do – and nor will a just-for-Sundays view of discipleship or worship. I know of no part of scripture that explodes such inadequate ideas more powerfully than the book of Amos. It is a ‘must read’ for Christians in today’s world.
Amos expands our vision of God
Yahweh is the covenant God of unfailing love, restoration, and free salvation (Amos 9:11–15). But he is also a God of justice and active wrath who is more angry than we are about corruption (Amos 5:12), brutality (Amos 2:6–16), the oppression of the poor (Amos 5:11), and the complacent decadence of the privileged (Amos 4:1–2). I cannot imagine loving or worshipping a God who is not like this, but to love and worship him must be the most challenging joy in all of human experience.
Amos expands our vision of worship
Amos is relentless in exposing the worthlessness of engaging in corporate worship, while our hearts are distracted by idolatry (Amos 5:26) and our lives are not glorifying him (Amos 4:1–5; 5:4–7). To know and worship the covenant God is to love him above all else (Amos 4:4–6) and to order our lives by his holiness and his justice through obedience to his word (Amos 5:21–24). Amos leaves us no space for a ‘Sunday-only’ faith.
Amos expands our vision of discipleship
Without doubt, a heart relationship with God (Amos 4:4–6) shaped by obedience to his word (Amos 2:11–12; 8:11–12) lies at the heart of true discipleship. For Amos, that obedience touches the whole of life, not just the bits we regard as ‘spiritual’. For Amos, discipleship is about social justice (Amos 5:11,24), business ethics (Amos 8:5–6), integrity (Amos 5;10–12), and a commitment not to oppress the poor (Amos 2:6,7; 5:11).
Amos expands our vision of the gospel
Only those with the hardest hearts could read a chapter of this prophetic book without feeling a deep sense of sin and moral failure. His prophecy is a ‘must read’ for Christians today, but it isn’t an easy read! However, to hear the ‘roaring lion’ (Amos 1:2) thundering out his judgement is to know how profoundly we need the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). The louder the Lion roars, the bigger the Lamb (Jesus) becomes in our estimation.
The cut-down God whom 21st Century people ‘like to believe in’ leaves us with a cut-down gospel; the awesome God of Amos drives us into the arms of an awesome Saviour, whose grace is enough for all our sin.