Sanctification. Justification. Atonement. Dispensationalism. Eternal conscious torment, annihilation or universalism. These terms and many others are what make up differing stances and thoughts on theology. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good, lively debate on interpretations of scripture, application, implications, etc. Maybe you’ve found yourself in a conversation of “Pre tribulation, mid tribulation or post tribulation rapture? Any rapture at all?”. Or “What is your stance on __________?” Again, I’m fascinated on why people believe what they believe and how they’ve arrived there. But in the end, what’s the point?
Don’t misunderstand, what you believe can and does shape how you live and what you do is often a result of what you know. But often times we over complicate things when in fact they’re quite simple. There’s a story in the book of Micah that illustrates this really well.
So in Old Testament times, people were required to offer a variety of sacrifices, a variety of ways for a wide variety of sins to remain in good standing with God. If the letter of the law wasn’t upheld, then there had to be an offering (or sacrifice) to account for this. (By the way, many times we get caught up in the letter of the law all the while missing the spirit of the law/principle. More on that later.) So eventually comes a prophet, (think less of a fortune teller and more of a clarity bringer–is that a word?!) Micah, who is trying to teach the Israelites what God is really about.
He says, “He has shown you, oh man, what The Lord requires: that you do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” First, I love that you can hear the weariness in his voice. The writer of this particular passage clearly wanted to demonstrate that Micah is somewhat agitated that people aren’t getting it. Oh man… Second, this should be freeing! Liberating! A huge weight lifted! Good news (*hint hint*) to all of the hearers of this revolutionary new way of thinking.
So along comes this Jesus guy, the good news in the flesh, who references this great prophet from many years before him. When the Pharisees are stuck on the letter of the law, following things to a T, living a sacrificial lifestyle, getting belief systems and theology right; Jesus tells them to go learn what God meant when he said “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Well this isn’t good news at all to a bunch of guys who feel they’re pretty great at keeping the letter of the law. In fact, they’re put off that this really means there is going to be more room for others at the party who haven’t had to sacrifice anything close to what the “good guys” have. The jokers who don’t believe the way the rule keepers and correct thinkers do, have hope too?!
Let’s not stray too far from the original point: theology and beliefs. The Pharisees thought they had the right beliefs, right practices and right traditions. Jesus jacks up their whole reality by telling them they’re missing the point. He challenges them to learn what desiring mercy not sacrifice means, and later will say that all the law and the prophets hang on loving God and loving neighbor.
We should take the same approach as Jesus (that’s never a bad plan, by the way.). We should strive to point people to the simple, easy things that aren’t gray. The things we can apply and will spend a lifetime trying to achieve. So the next time you’re Jesus juked into a conversation on politics, pacifism, marriage, drinking, (the list really could go on for a long time); remember what God requires isn’t that you have the correct beliefs, but that you work toward justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Him–love God and love neighbor. Tell people that’s what you’re expending energy on. If we focus on believing all the “right” things, but forget Micah 6:8, in the end, what’s the point?