On that day, says the Lord,
I will cut off your horses from among you
and will destroy your chariots;
and I will cut off the cities of your land
and throw down all your strongholds…
And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance
on the nations that did not obey.
Micah 5:10-11, 15
*This is the fifth installment in a series of seven pieces on Micah posted every Wednesday during Lent.
Small town Micah portrays a big time God whose anger and wrath fuel justice. This God, thankfully, is not apathetic or indifferent to the plight of the vulnerable and marginalized. This God is passionate and determined to level the playing field, to eliminate the weapons of war driving the false security apparatus and unjust killings all around us.
Horses, chariots and strongholds have been replaced by F-18s, drones and tanks. Like the ancients, American imperialists have their own magic religion used to justify the violence, abuse and exploitation. Today, in too many churches with bloated attendance, the biblical God of history is replaced by a God dwelling pietistically in our hearts and futuristically in heaven.
Biblical episodes like this one from Micah, describing a wrathful God, are uncomfortable for many of us devoted to the nonviolence of Jesus, Gandhi and King. Ched Myers & Elaine Enns in Ambassadors of Reconciliation (2009) helpfully narrate how God’s anger functions theologically & practically in our world:
God allows us to reap the lethal consequences of our own historic depravities—this “judgment” looms in the end-game of our addictions or infidelities in the personal sphere, or of the arms race or environmental destruction in the collective sphere.
Or, as the late Walter Wink writes in Just Jesus (2014):
You can imagine what a relief it was to discover that ‘the wrath of God’ was not divine retribution for our sins, but rather divine forbearance whereby God ‘gives us up’ to the consequences of our folly (Rom 1:18-32), of which global warming is only one of many.
God, out of deep love, warns us, through prophets like Micah, that all this hoarding and hatred, lusting and loathing, coveting and conquering, will manifest itself organically, resulting in diseases, disorders, dysfunctions and death. Cycles of violence plague us, physically passing on abuse, intimidation and manipulation, psychically imprisoned by addiction, mental illness and cancer.
A God of compassion and justice must design a system, no matter how complex, that keeps us accountable to our exploiting and scapegoating. But God in Christ must not look like our abusive fathers and coaches, allergic to intimacy, taking their anger out on us. A God of spirit and truth, in whom “we live and move and have our being,” soaks us in approval: “You are my beloved child, with you I am well-pleased.” But if we insist on clinging to our greed-driven predatory loans and fear-based predatory drones, our fracked up and fought after fossil fuels, its not going to end well. And, along the way, we will experience what the wrath of Unarmed Truth & Unconditional Love feels like.
A faith that is consistent with the God enfleshed in Jesus and compelling to those groping to understand what Transcendence might be, will never justify militaries and markets that work wonders through a clenched fist and an invisible hand. Although we may not advocate for these policies, many of us radical disciples are both accomplices and beneficiaries (through our investments, jobs, inheritances, consumption and comforts).
Malcolm prophesied that all our chickens will come home to roost. Martin was executed just days before he was to preach a sermon entitled, “Why America May Go To Hell.” These seem harsh: especially since they apply to us. On this step of the Lenten journey, we ask God for eyes to see and ears to hear where our preferences and practices are paving the road to hell on earth. We ask God for the prophetic voice of Micah, calling attention to all our counterfeit copings. This isn’t karma, but Something is kicking back.