By Steven Norris
“What do you want from me?!” Teenage angst has certainly been an unwelcome guest in our household over the past few years. We are in the crucible of parenthood — a place of transformation where many have been before us.
I imagine that God has also fielded quite a few of those kind of impassioned “prayers,” with human hands raised desperately to the heavens and voices screaming, “What do you want from me?!”
The people of Israel came to the prophet Micah asking much the same question about their relationship with God: What does God want? Burnt offerings? Sacrificial calves? Rivers of oil?Micah responds with three memorable commands (see Micah 6:6-8). Let’s take a closer look at those for a moment.
Do justice. Rather than solely being understood as a nod to the criminal justice system, this phrase calls for us to treat people with equality — without bias or prejudice. Appearing more than 200 times in scriptures, God’s justice involves caring for the most vulnerable among us (widows, orphans, the poor, the oppressed). As pastor Tim Keller puts it, “The mishpat, or justness, of a society, according to the Bible, is evaluated by how it treats these groups. Any neglect shown to the needs of the members of this quartet is not called merely a lack of mercy or charity but a violation of justice, of mishpat. God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to ‘do justice.”
Love mercy. The Hebrew word translated as mercy here is chesed and refers to the idea of the covenant loyalty and faithfulness of God. It is notoriously tricky to translate into English as it is used to refer to God’s fierce loyalty and commitment to God’s people. Commentator Juan Alfaro describes it this way: “More than human feelings, loving mercy includes compassion and steadfast loyal love, such as exists among members of the same clan, tribe, and family. Loving mercy is a community-oriented activity, expressed concretely by protecting and helping those in need and through a spirit of solidarity.”
Walk humbly. At the end of the day, God does in fact require a sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice of a different kind than the questioner anticipated. As James Luther Mays puts it, “It’s not a sacrifice of something outside a person which can be objectified as a means to deal with God. It is rather a yielding of life itself to God and his way, ‘repentance’ of the most radical sort.” To walk humbly with God is to recognize that God is God and we are not. It is to stand before the mystery of God’s power and wisdom, knowing that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9) — that we “see through a glass dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Therefore, humility is essential.
In a world of seemingly endless complexity, maybe we need a reminder that what God requires of us is fairly simple. Not easy, but simple nonetheless.