If you want to read a feel-good bible story, don’t read Amos. It’s a messy account of Israel’s indignation and selfishness. To be honest, this came as a surprise to me. In my mind, prophets were fortunetellers. I thought their sole purpose was to establish within the Old Testament enough predictions about Jesus so that the Israelites would have enough proof to believe he was the Messiah—so that Christians would have enough proof to believe he was real, too. I never opened my bible to explore the world of the prophets for myself until Kenneth Hanson’s Biblical Prophets course. In that class, I was introduced to a brilliant man named Abraham Heschel. Rabbi Heschel taught me the depth of the prophets. In his words, “Amos’ primary mission is not to predict, but to exhort and to persuade. Israel has failed to seek Him, so He will go out to meet Israel…This seems to be Amos’ premise: God does not leave man in the dark; He communicates His thoughts to men. What has provoked the anger of the LORD? What had happened to shatter his silence? Two things stand out in the prophet’s condemnation: the absence of loyalty and the absence of pity.”
Amos didn’t come to predict the future for the Israelites. He came to speak truth into their lives. The Israelites hadn’t been living a life that reflected the goodness of their God. They turned blind eyes to the destitute and, consequently, turned further and further away from the LORD. But the story doesn’t end there. It never ends there for Israel. They were being unfaithful, but the LORD wasn’t willing to be. “Man may remain callous, but God cannot keep silent. Terrible is His voice, because he has a heart,” explains Heschel.
The LORD loves Israel enough to use a man like Amos to get their attention. He loves them enough to call them, however sharply it may be, to a better life for themselves and for the sake of others. He loves them enough to create in their hearts a famine only He can satisfy.
I can’t help but notice the similarities between the Israelites’ actions and my own. My faith is just as messy and I’m just as selfish. It’s easy for me to forget the life God has called me to. I’m supposed to lead a life so attractive and so different that others can’t help but consider belief in the LORD. I’m supposed to live selflessly and fully because the deepest parts of my soul have been made alive by the LORD. I’m thankful for forty years full of reminders in the Israelites’ journey: it’s a process. What was true for the Israelites then is true for followers of Christ now: “Faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart” (Heschel).
When I consider the endless pilgrimage of the heart, I think of “Ulysses” by Josh Garrels. The album it’s from, Love & War & The Sea In Between is, in Josh’s words, a story of “navigating life in a dark and mysterious world with the hope of a homecoming where God has set all things right.” Every time I listen to it, I’m in awe of the eloquent parallels he draws between The Odyssey and what is, to me, one of the most difficult, gritty aspects of the Christian life: a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
This song isn’t just about my longing after the LORD, although it does articulate it in a beautiful, honest way. Just as I long for the LORD, so He longs for me. It’s the same longing that is evident in Amos’ words to the Israelites: I want you and all of you. While faith is not all about me, there’s not one moment I’m alive that is about something other than growing closer to Him. This is the depth of his love and commitment to my soul and to yours.