For the Love of God, Volume 2/November 17
From Gospel Translations
1 Chronicles 9—10; Hebrews 12; Amos 6; Luke 1:39-80
TO UNDERSTAND ARIGHT THE POWER OF Amos 6, it is helpful to reflect a little on two themes: complacency and the power elite.
(1) I shall begin by reminding you of a story I told in the meditation for January 15. One of my high school history teachers related how, toward the end of World War II, he had been furloughed home because of an injury. He had seen many of his buddies killed; others were still in action. He was riding a bus in a Canadian city, and he heard an obviously wealthy and ostentatious woman in the seat in front of him talking to her companion. Her husband was making a lot of money in arms production. She confided to her seatmate: “I hope this war doesn’t end soon. We’ve never had it so good.”
That is the ugly face of complacency. The picture of those “who are complacent in Zion” (6:1) is no less repugnant. There they are, strumming away on their guitars, fancying themselves to be gifted musicians like David (6:5), slurping their Chardonnay, the atmosphere charged with their perfumes and aftershaves (6:6)— but they do not grieve over all that is wrong and corrupt.
(2) Virtually every society develops an elite. An absolute monarchy or a dictatorship demonstrates this in obvious ways. Communism, theoretically classless, develops its own elite, its own rulers; the privilege of birth gives way to the privilege of party membership and political power. In a democracy, there may be relative equality of opportunity, but that is not the same as classlessness. Rather, at its best equal opportunity ensures some mobility within a more or less stratified society: outsiders can become insiders, and the elite can be penetrated by hoi polloi. Aristocracy and dictatorship are then replaced by meritocracy; the rule of the rich and the noble is replaced by the rule of the successful and the clever and the vicious. Of course, this is almost inevitable, as many sociologists have explained: for practical reasons, direct rule by the people is impossible. There have to be representatives, appointees, someone to make decisions and effect things—and a new power bloc is born. Perhaps the greatest benefit of democracy is that it provides a peaceful way of turning blighters out every few years, and selecting others.
But from God’s perspective, leadership goes hand in hand with responsibility. Amos 6 is directed against the capitals of Judah and Israel (Zion and Samaria) and against the “notable men” (6:1). The ugly complacency of this chapter is the complacency of rulers and leaders presiding over decadence, compromise, injustice, theological perversity, and their own creature comforts. And where, in the church and in the broader culture, do leadership and complacency join hands today? At how many levels? And what does God think of it?