In Micah 6:1-8 God offers the people of Micah’s day a picture of what He desires from His people, three things just as radical in his time as in our own: To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. I want to explore these each a bit further.
Acting justly might seem to us the height of simplicity. But as the people of God we bear witness to God in how we live our lives. And as we seek to live lives of justice this flies in the face of a world that says to us at every turn, “if you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t trying, the ends justify the means.” To live just and righteous lives is to live at odds with the controlling forces of fear at work in us; to live at odds with the oppressive system that we benefit from that keeps us safe.
To be fair and impartial like God is breaks down all the barriers of “us versus them” it breaks down all our justifications about choosing the lesser of two evils. As I mentioned during the section on the prophet Amos, justice and righteousness are two halves to the same coin. And the face stamped on that coin is Jesus’ face. As we strive to live justly we also strive to grow in the image of Jesus, and to demonstrate a radical reorientation of our whole selves to the character and nature of God.
In one of my previous sermons I talked about what grace is with the example of how we might respond to being punched in the face. If we were to punch them back… that would be justice—a black eye for a black eye. If we refused to punch them back… that would be mercy, it would be not giving them what they deserve. But grace meant to go even farther, to not only not hit them back…. but even to forgive them enough to take them out for ice cream afterwards. Grace is that radical of a thing, it is not only “not giving what is deserved” it is giving what is not deserved.
The command to “love mercy” is particularly striking to me. Loving mercy is a radical thing in a world that says “mercy is for the weak, they would do the same to us if they had the chance.” God does not only prescribe for us to do justice, he pushes us past justice into mercy. But he does not merely ask us as His people to BE MERCIFUL, as hard as even that is for us. God asks us to go beyond being merciful to the point where we have our hearts changed so that we LOVE mercy.
This calls us to walking in a kind of pre-forgiveness. It calls us to be changed so much that mercy is a natural response for us. And this is essentially a command…
It does not seem strange to me that we would need that kind of “strong word” from God to get us up off our seats and on with the business of actually doing it. The way I read it, to love mercy is essentially to offer grace. In a sense, justice is fair, but mercy is unfair. It requires us to go beyond fair. If it was earned… it would not be mercy–it could not be–by definition. To love mercy is one of the clearest calls from the Old Testament toward what we refer to in the New as Christ-likeness. To love mercy is to follow Jesus’ example of loving even enemies, of turning the other cheek, of walking in a kind of pre-forgiveness, and of dying to ourselves for a people who did not deserve it.
The very heart of God is one that loves mercy. To be a people after God’s own heart requires us to not only “be” merciful, but to let God reshape our hearts into hearts that love mercy and practice grace. It calls us not only to sacrifice and to “give until it hurts,” but to love to do so. In our human understanding, justice and mercy are opposites, yet in God’s understanding they can become two halves of the same coin: love.
Lastly we are called to walk humbly with our God. This takes it to the next level beyond even loving mercy. I have met my share of people who strive for justice, but often that can end up just being a new form of legalism where we keep score between ourselves and others. For instance, I have some friends back home that are animal rights activists, and to be fair, they are right about a lot of things. But their striving for justice at many points just felt like they were finding a new way to judge others and question their compassion, intelligence, and motives. This can easily happen to people who act justly, they can start keeping score and make it about self-righteousness.
Even loving mercy can be a source of pride. As we strive to be like God in this way, we can—because of our growth—see the areas in others that lack growth. Our love for mercy can actually make us less merciful to those we perceive as being hard hearted or having bad motives. As we give mercy to others we can do so in a way that counts the debts we have forgiven.
Walking humbly with our God is to go beyond simply doing justice and loving mercy. It is to do these things in a way that makes no sense, because we do them not simply because they ought to be done; we do them as a humble act of obedience, in submission to God. And in a way that does not keep score; does not try to use these good deeds as bargaining chips with God or ways to measure ourselves against others.
I can think of nothing more radical that to walk humbly with God in a world that says “arrogance, pride and self-importance are the real ways to get ahead in this world.” Walking humbly with God is to be so close to God, so transformed in his likeness, that we literally let that relationship be enough for us.
As David Crowder sings of it:
“And we are His portion and He is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking”
Walking humbly with our God is a race to the bottom of an upside down kingdom. And our King is the one who describes the journey of those who have ambition for seats of honor like this:
“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
We can at times forget how radical God’s call is. It is not a call to comfort and feeling we have arrived, it is a radical counter-cultural call to living holy lives with holy motives. It is a call to be transformed into the image of Jesus.
So where are you on this race to the bottom? Do you live justly? If so, are you willing to let God show you how to love mercy? If you live justly and love mercy, do you need to grow in humility? Even if you do all of these, is it still like functional atheism, or is it something that flows from your deep relationship with God? No matter where you are in the journey, I bet there is still plenty of room at the bottom…