Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of his possession?
He does not retain his anger forever
because he delights in showing steadfast love.
He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our ancestors
from the days of old. (New Revised Standard Version)
In a world obsessed with constant and rapid change, it is refreshing to know that there is a God whose essential character, attributes, and way of being in the world never changes.
The Lord is a God who is faithful, always keeping divine promises to people. God is pleased to show steadfast love and kindness through extending forgiveness. And because the Lord values pardoning human transgressions, God always looks sin square in the eye – not ever sugarcoating iniquities – and puts it down like a rabid animal.
In the prophet Micah’s day, the social and communal sins of the people were legion, leading to a great deal of injustice. Wealthy landowners creatively and unjustly seized property in order to feed their continual greed for more; false prophets went about preaching a positive future of peace, even though the poor became poorer through no fault of their own; and the nation’s leaders abused their power by fleecing the people of what little they had to begin with.
In short, dishonest business practices, dressed up by leadership as the path to prosperity, stirred up the just and right indignation of God. An assurance of pardon comes, yet only after there is confession of sin.
In this present contemporary era, we have our own legion of social sins which must be identified, confronted, confessed, expiated, and replaced with virtues that foster life and happiness.
Today’s way of doing business – whether in the corporate world and even in many faith communities – is to embrace an unholy ethic of more, faster, and better.
“Wait,” you may push back, “that doesn’t sound to me like anything bad.” And I would respond by saying that this is evidence of how far into our sin we have become, that we cannot distinguish our unjust practices from legitimate just practices.
Behind many contemporary business “ethics” are compulsions to beat the competition at all cost, obsessions with more money, and a lust for power and control. These are not practices helping people to live well.
In ancient Egypt, Pharaoh’s massive industrial complex was built on more – more pyramids and buildings, more wealth, more power and influence. Behind the “more” is usually old-fashioned greed. We want more market share, more numbers, more options and opportunities, more control.
Yet, what if the people doing the “more” are already tired, weary, and have given what they can? Like the Israelite slaves in Egypt, making more bricks translated to more wealth. And if it takes a literal whip to make them do more, then so be it.
Many modern workers put up with the “more” mantra only because they need their jobs and fear losing them if they don’t keep a ridiculously high level of production. And if anybody complains about it, they immediately get labeled (by the people in power) as not being grateful.
I once worked a job where a manager would occasionally and literally stand over my shoulder and time me with a stopwatch… sheesh… and I worked another job in which there was a quota for every day; we had to keep pace because production was king.
You don’t need to be in a factory for the clock to be the taskmaster. I don’t know of anyone who is hounded by a boss about time to experience contentment, peace, and rest. Speeding up to meet a quota or deadline only promises to create the necessity for more change, done faster.
None of this makes for a good life; and I would argue that it doesn’t make for good business either. It only produces empty and vacuous people who sacrifice themselves on the altar of work.
We are finite creatures with finite time and resources. We are not inanimate machines without a soul.
One of the manifestations of valuing speed and productivity is also expecting fewer mistakes – because imperfection slows the wheels of progress. This is where people begin to be treated like machines instead of humans. And they become expendable; if they don’t do better, they get replaced with someone else.
Furthermore, this push to do better is often why workers are told to keep their problems at home and not bring them to the job. This has had a terrible impact on individuals, their families, and their relationships.
Forced compartmentalization has the effect of breaking down integrity and creating disparities. People’s very normal struggles cannot be shared with anyone but a professional counselor, therapist, or pastor. Their feelings and emotions become privatized.
Giving someone a list of resources might make management feel better, but it does little to actually help a grieving person who is right under their nose. Depression sets in because the person’s experience and emotions have been implicitly invalidated, leaving them with a sense that they’re meaningless and are a burden on others.
More, faster, and better – continually pumped into society’s bloodstream – is only making the world anxious, depressed, and with no energy to keep being yourself, that is, if you even know who you are anymore after such a pace of work.
Instead of more, faster, better, what if we…
- Embrace an unforced rhythm of life which recognizes the values of slowness, simplicity, and satisfaction?
2. Ask people to be themselves, to live life at a pace that’s doable and enjoyable?
3. Expect workers and people everywhere are to rest and adopt Christ’s easy yoke?
4. Take up the mantle as God’s people to be a counter-cultural movement of relationships which emphasize grace, love, mercy, patience, peace, joy, and spiritual support?
5. Put our energies into the careful construction of souls, instead of draining the spirits of people through unrealistic expectations?
6. Sought to live a simple life, without the need for more?
7. Learn to be satisfied with what we already have?
8. Rid ourselves of financial language to communicate with one another? (e.g. “invest in eternity,” “be an asset, not a liability,” “pay your debt to society,” etc.)
For the Christian, transformation isn’t dependent upon praying more, reading more, giving more, or serving more. Spiritual growth isn’t realized overnight; it takes time, in fact, a lifetime. And change isn’t about trying to be better, since our identity is already firmly in Christ.
My friends, you and I are enough. Transformation of life is the result of becoming open and receiving the grace of God in Christ. If we want forgiveness, we must face the sin of our world in all of its deceit, degradation, and damage.
Let’s not find ourselves on the other end of God’s ire because of unsound practices which dehumanize others. But let us accept and adopt rhythms of life that are consistent with being human and caring for others. That’s what the prophet Micah was looking for.
May it be so, to the glory of God.