Some time in the second half of the eighth century before Christ a man called Micah received a message from God. For the people of Israel it was a double-edged sword: a stern warning and hope for the future. It is within this short book that we can find one of the simplest and most powerful messages from God in the Old Testament:
“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Italics mine) – Micah 6:8
The context of this verse, as with every verse in the Bible, is significant. It comes at the end of a series of questions all regarding the correct way to approach God (verses 6-7) and is situated in a section of chapter 6 that the NIV translators have called ‘The Lord’s Case Against Israel’. Basically, Israel are messing up. If they’re not worshipping other Gods then their getting the worship of the true God wrong. They’re overcomplicating it with assumptions that they can please God with material offerings alone. This little verse shows them that their wrong, but, like all good teachers, God doesn’t leave it at that, he tells them what they need to do to get better.
With God it’s all about the heart, the state of mind. Yes, your actions matter, don’t think that they don’t, but if your heart’s in the wrong place, those actions won’t mean anything in the long run. This verse highlights that relationship between heart and action in a beautifully succinct, memorable way.
This is the way that I see it: each action in Micah 6:8 depends on the action following it for it to be pleasing to God. To act justly you have to love mercy, and to love mercy you have to walk humbly with God. If you walk humbly with God, you’ll be able to do the other two. As with everything else in the Bible, the first stage for human beings is humility before God. Walking humbly with God adds wisdom to mercy; mercy adds care to justice.
Justice is blind. It is blind to human suffering and circumstances. According to the Bible, if God ruled by blind justice, there would be no hope for any of us. We have all done enough to condemn us and if justice were to run its course without mercy, there would be no salvation. But loving mercy changes things; mercy is not the desire to see justice perverted, it is the desire to see people change. Mercy is about giving people the opportunity to be better than before; it is about believing that people have the capacity to improve. God knows that we have the capacity to improve, so he sent his son to make sure that we can. God’s mercy did not avoid justice (Jesus’ death saw to that), but it provides those whom justice condemns with a second chance.
But this is not always appropriate. God says that he will have mercy on whom he will have mercy (Romans 9:15) and as Christians, we are called to trust his judgement. This is why it’s so important for us to walk humbly with him. That way, we can learn to see the world through his eyes and learn where mercy needs to be given and where justice needs to run its course. God shows us which battles to fight. We cannot act in accordance with his will if we are intent on doing things our own way. Humility is admitting that God knows more than we do.
All this can sound a bit scary. One of the hardest things about being a Christian is admitting that your life is no longer yours to control. It’s about trusting God’s judgement and acknowledging that he is greater than us. For some people, this is nigh on impossible. Others will manage it easier. Whatever our disposition, Micah 6:8 makes it clear that God doesn’t require earthly stuff; there doesn’t need to be anything complicated in our relationship with him. All he requires is that we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with him. That’s a pretty good lifestyle to strive for in the new year.