When A Song Is Not Enough
It’s a dark day in American society, and I’m not talking about the solar eclipse. Ethnic tensions have risen to levels that we have not seen in several decades. Stories of protests, rioting, brawls, and gun violence fill our news outlets and social media threads. Recently, a small group of friends and I have been talking, praying, and studying scripture with an eye on this prominent topic of social justice and ethnic reconciliation. And this morning, I read a passage of scripture that shocked me to my core.
“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want."
Amos 5:21-24 MSG (emphasis added)
God was outraged at the scene of events in ancient Israel. The rich were oppressing the poor and the people of God mistook increases in wealth and prosperity as a sign of his divine pleasure and blessing. It’s into this spiritual and societal crisis that God called a commoner to prophesy and reprove the attitudes and behaviors of his people. Key to this prophetic discourse is the idea that justice is as integral to true worship as songs, services, and financial giving. As I read these verses, I almost felt like I could see God plugging his ears, his face wrinkled in disgust, as people raised hands to him and gushed with songs of praise—completely unaware of the spiritual breach created by their injustices. Jesus makes a similar statement to the religious “cream of the crop” in the book of Matthew:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”
Matthew 23:23 ESV (emphasis added)
In other words, Jesus says you can’t substitute spiritual practices for social responsibility. The songs we sing are incomplete without the works of compassion and grace.
The harsh reality of these scriptures reminds me of how valuable it is to be a part of a global community of songwriters. I’m astonished at the things I’ve learned about myself and God as a result of building relationships and serving Jesus with people from all ethnicities and social backgrounds while hearing their struggles, praying for one another’s needs, and believing God for transformation in our churches and communities.
But I’m also stunned by God’s passion for justice and his desire that his church fan into flame the fire for attending to the needs of the hopeless and oppressed.
I pray that this timeless truth of God’s word would continue to guide us so our hearts may never go astray. Remembering that justice is a liturgical practice to be championed and never neglected.
This song was written at a W3 in Nashville last year. It’s a great reminder that the justice of God marches on and yet we wait with ever increasing expectation for it to be fully realized.