Closing the Loopholes: Amos 1 – 9

“Go to Bethel and sin;
    go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
    your tithes every three years.[m]
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
    and brag about your freewill offerings—
boast about them, you Israelites,
    for this is what you love to do,”
declares the Sovereign Lord.
Amos 4:4-5 (NIV)

Young Christian kids know how to work the system. Like if I wanted to lie, I would tell all of the truth and just lob off the lying part.

“What did you do with your friends, honey?”
Oh, we went to the park and got pizza… (and toilet papered someone’s car).

-or-

“Did you have fun at the movies?”
Yup! … (It was especially fun with the gin)

You get it.

Another strategy was to just commit the sin and then immediately ask for forgiveness. Do you really want to say the f-word? Do it, and apologize later! For the real risk-takers, you could just live a non-spiritual life all the way up until the end, and then accept Jesus into your heart. But this requires a slow and foreseeable end. Only apply if you live on the edge…

Catholics perfected this concept with the idea of confession. Go ahead and screw up all you want! Then, trot on down to your local priest, confess your sins, and receive your penance. Congratulations! You’re done! Welcome to Heaven (or Purgatory first, and then Heaven)!

Logically, this makes no sense. Can such behavior match up with a truly penitent heart? Or is it all about the action and not the heart?

This half-assed spiritual behavior is of particular interest to Amos, our latest “minor” prophet on the Old Testament homestretch. His prophecies concern the flailing Israelites during the final days of Jeroboam’s reign, right before God tears apart the nation. Amos sets his sight on the complacent followers, those who believe but do not act, those who sin and rely on God’s forgiveness to see them through to the end. He devotes an entire chapter to “woe-ing” these particular sinners, for putting “off the day of disaster” and lying “on beds adorned with ivory” (6:3-4). Amos is basically saying, “You’re relying on loopholes, Israel! You think you can be as bad as you want and just beg for forgiveness and live?!”

I never thought my Christian loopholes would work. God must be too smart for that, I thought. How could He actually accept someone who waited until his or her deathbed? The kid in me wants to scream out, That’s cheating! because it is. It is a technicality and does not really have anything to do with the heart.

I have not spoken much about my recent church experiences, because I simply need more time to attend and process. However, on my first week, the pastor – a lesbian woman by the way – said something that has stuck with me. She said that we have painted God to be quite stupid in interpreting our hearts, and we often assign Him the role of thoughtless executioner. Why do some think that homosexuality is not a sin? Because gay Christians believe just as much in Him as heterosexual Christians.

And God must be smart enough to see that.