“Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.” Amos 5:14-15 NRSV
The combination of financial and material prosperity with a lack of spiritual guidance and influence isn’t a good one. Amos, a prophet from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, was sent into the Northern Kingdom, Israel, to deliver a prophetic word against what was happening in that nation. They were prosperous, and fairly secure. They were also separated from their spiritual moorings, and were ruled by a series of Kings described in the Old Testament as “doing evil in the eyes of the Lord.” The poor were being oppressed, and cheated, kept poor as a means of increasing the wealth of the rich. They had no advocates. It was an unjust system that was perpetuated by those in power, right up to the throne of the King himself.
Prosperity isn’t a sin, in and of itself. There are plenty of legitimate ways to become wealthy. Considering that wealth as a blessing from God, there’s an expectation to use it to be a blessing to others. But wealth acquired by cheating, breaking the rules, or taking advantage of others is sinful. Humans are created in the image of God, and loving others in the same way that we love ourselves is a core principle of both the Jewish faith of the Old Testament, and the Christian faith in the New Testament. Jesus taught this principle when he said that “Love your neighbor as yourself” was one of the two greatest commandments.
God’s judgment on Israel was destruction. “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.” (Amos 8:2b, NRSV) Ten tribes of a prosperous nation, given over to their enemies who, for generations, had been kept away and from whom they had been protected. At the heart of what was happening in the country, the selfishness was at the top of the list. Prosperity separated people, and became the thing which allowed the prosperous to turn their backs on those who had less, and then oppress them in order to become more prosperous.
It doesn’t just have to be money that separates people, and brings about injustice, though. In our culture, it has been many things, from national origin, language spoken, color of skin, religious beliefs, and a whole host of other things used to create a privileged class of people who can then use privilege to justify oppression. Fear also helps us seal off the ability to see others as God sees them. Self examination is not enough, since we are not really capable of seeing others as God sees them. We can only do that with the help of the Spirit. And even then, it’s not easy.
The world would be a different place if those who place their faith and trust in Christ were more focused on this core principle, “loving your neighbor as yourself,” than on the whole host of other things that attract our attention, including our insistence on demanding our own rights and freedoms. Behavior change requires a spiritual change, and things happen when Christians are invested in ministry. That’s why God sent prophets to his people like Amos. The times are different, but the message is the same, and so are the problems.