Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Not a famine of bread, ... but for hearing the word of the LORD"

I was struck by the following verses from today's (BCP) reading from the Book of Amos (8:11-12):

Yes, days are coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send famine upon the land: Not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but for hearing the word of the LORD.  Then shall they wander from sea to sea and rove from the north to the east in search of the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.
Amos has just been condemning the rich of Israel for defrauding the poor, which makes this passage more startling.  Wouldn't the logical response to injustice be the restoration of justice -- in this case, inverting the top-heavy social order?  Yet God responds in a different way.  The context helps a bit: Amos has been condemning the Israelites both for their injustice, and for their religious hypocrisy:

I hate, I spurn your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemnities; Your cereal offerings I will not accept, nor consider your stall-fed peace offerings. Away with your noisy songs! I will not listen to the melodies of your harps. But if you would offer me holocausts, then let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream (Amos 5:21-24).
What's most disturbing about Amos' prophecy is that it has come true.  Don't we see rich and poor, liberal and conservative, fundamentalist and free-thinker, all rushing about looking for spiritual reality?  Don't I do the same?  "Then shall they wander... in search of the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it."  Hunger at least brings with it a focus and clarity of purpose: one does whatever one needs to do in order to fill one's stomach and those of one's loved ones.  Generations of hunger have their own distorting effect on the moral sense, but it's hard to condemn that, any more than one can condemn the clever but sometimes cruel survival strategies found in the natural world.  Having the leisure to search for the Divine, however, means that one needs to find new purpose -- a new drive to replace the old one of basic survival.  This is a new stage of human evolution!  I can't imagine it will be easy for us to figure this out as a species, rather than as occasional blessed individuals.  I haven't figured it out yet.