I met Rose on my second day in Kenya. Rose was about my age; she had two beautiful children and was full of light. Rose worked as my housekeeper for all four of my years in Kenya and became one of my closest confidants.
One day after a huge storm Rose came to work late. The storm had literally torn her world apart: the roof on her home had been blown off by the winds, her entire home had flooded, and everything was ruined. As I listened to her my heart sunk, my stomach tightened, and my skin started to crawl,
This experience of guilt was a regular occurrence in Kenya: why did I maintain a life of comfort when so many were living in poverty? I imagine this is a question many of us have asked in some form. And despite the eternal nature of this philosophical question, I’m not sure it’s the question God wants us to be asking.
I know that’s not how Micah calls the people in his prophecy. Micah is writing to people who occupied similar positions of authority, wealth and power in Judah. He is angered by their greed, corruption and abuse of power. Instead of using their power and privilege for the good of all, the people Micah addresses are stealing homes from those who are poor, and cheating others in court (2:2 and 6:10).
Micah dramatizes this conflict, writing the book to read like a courtroom scene in which God has taken the people to court for their behavior. In the opening arguments, God reminds the people of the provision they experienced in the desert, and asks them to extend God’s care as it was extended to them. We are not being judged on purity, chastity, competency, worldly success, or the amount of guilt we experience but on these three qualities: doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.
Justice and kindness are stark contrasts to guilt.
Guilt keeps the focus on our own discomfort rather than the pain of the situation. At best, guilt can lead to one-off actions that attempt to remedy our feelings of shame. At worst, it motivates us to recede deeper into our position of power to avoid this discomfort.
Justice and kindness begin by looking outward and acknowledging the discomfort we feel about inequity. Justice is, directly translated, the idea of seeking wholeness and finality for people. Doing justice means bringing about the unity and equality Ezekiel dreamed of in his prophecy. A community marked by loving kindness, the relentless love of God, lets that love transform the way we show mercy and kindness to those around us.
No, I do not think God wants guilt.
Instead, God requires that we “walk humbly.” That we open our entire being to justice and kindness so that all that we do might move us one step closer to God’s dream.
Prayer: Open my heart to justice and kindness.
Reflection: How does my emotional response to injustice get in the way of me taking action? How might I increase the kindness I offer others?