ISSUES OF FAITH: Calling God to account

Note: this column is based on Micah 6:1-8 — that’s right, I’m giving you homework.

LIKE MANY HEBREW prophets, Micah is not at all afraid of yelling at God, even if God started it. God is yelling at Micah and Micah is spoiling for a fight.

This is what he dares to ask God’s own self in Micah 6: “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?”

In my family, and in the context of this passage, that question would be followed with a furious “heck, no!”

I mean, what kind of question is that to ask God?

Even as I write that, I just heard every one of my Chicago uncles in my head. They took no prisoners. They were fierce.

They were no Job cowering before God when God thundered “Where were you when I made the stars? Or the whales, just because I thought they were a hoot. Where you there?”

They’d all be like what my Uncle Al (the one who tried to steal our best silverware one Thanksgiving, for which my mother never ever forgave him) might have said for not showing up to dinner: “Hey, I was busy. Get outta my face!”

But God names the judge and jury for his version of a trial against humanity. You’re a sinner? Fine. “Rise, plead your case before the mountains, / and let the hills hear your voice.”

Then God plays the guilt card: “O my people, what have I done to you? / In what have I wearied you? Answer me!”

Wow. OK. Wow. We’re going to go there. Fine.

I love passages like this in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures because Micah, in all his audacity, has an answer: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old?”

Micah knows: it isn’t enough.

My uncles might have gone on, “What do you want, God?”

We probably have all wanted to say exactly this from time to time: No, God, you won’t be pleased with us. And even if you would accept us in all our human condition, we can’t do that because of our humanity.

“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams / with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?”

Sorry, the local grocery store is having supply problems and is temporarily out of one ram, let alone thousands of them. As for rivers of oil, nope. Not this week. Want a rain check? Well, forget that. Out of stock.

We already know we’ve made God mad. This kind of appeasement won’t work, and we know it. Or, at least, we fear it. We fear our failure. So we yell.

This is not limited to Micah. One of the Psalms pictures God going on in anger and making the terms of the contract explicit. No, your sacrifices are not acceptable. One even goes on to add “They. Stink.” Not in so many words, but that’s the basic idea.

We have failed, utterly and completely, and any attempt to reconcile ourselves to God is tainted.

We’ve said “it’s Adam’s fault. It’s Eve’s fault. It’s our teacher’s fault.”

And finally, “it’s your fault, God.”

How are we to meet God? We come to God with our hands empty and dirty. And God — especially in the Psalms and in the Prophets — can snub us as not good enough.

Micah goes so far as to question the sacrifice of the Egyptians with the messengers of God slaying every first-born son, unless blood, sacrificial blood, is placed on a doorpost telling the angel to pass over the house: “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, / the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

But then a new, quiet voice replies, in one of the most grace-filled passages in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures alike: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

That’s the answer, blinding in its simplicity.

That’s all. That’s the whole solution.

See, God, especially in God’s relationship to humanity and particularly the Israelites, is pictured as a husband or lover. And those of us who are married or partnered, or have children or pets, whatever our families look like, know. Some days you just wanna kill them, but don’t.

Walk humbly next to them; walk slowly along with God. Do justice and love kindness. And everybody will calm down.

It will be fine. It really will.


Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Keith Dorwick is a Deacon at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Port Angeles/St. Swithin’s Episcopal Church, Forks.

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