My husband’s aunt owns a cabin along Pine Creek in Northern Pennsylvania. I’m always arrested by the stillness, such a contrast from the noisy pace of my day-today life and mind. In the quiet of the early morning or at the hush of dusk, the creek waters often get markedly still, and when they do, the most vivid reflection appears, a mirrored image of the trees and foliage that line the bank and crowd the mountain that swells upward.We need to understand this as a three-stranded mandate... One is not meant to be divorced from the others.
This kind of vivid reflection is described in Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (NIV). Justice, mercy, and humility are the very heart and character of God. As we take time to be still in his presence, to intentionally seek him in the quiet and the hush, he restores our souls, and the rushing waters within us also still, and we begin to reflect back God’s heart.
We need to understand this as a three-stranded mandate: doing justice, loving mercy (or kindness), and walking humbly with God. One is not meant to be divorced from the others.
Think back to basic chemistry class and mixtures vs. solutions. A mixture is a combination of substances that do not completely dissolve and, therefore, can be separated out. A solution is a combination of substances that are dissolved completely and can’t be filtered out. God’s list of what he requires is a solution. Micah 6:8 lists the parts of the solution that bring God pleasure and best reflects his heart—doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with him—and none can be separated from the others. They are completely intertwined and interconnected because they are the very essence of the heart of God.
- Justice without mercy and humility turns us into self-righteous zealots.
- Mercy without justice and humility turns us into indulgent saviors.
- Humility without justice and mercy turns us into ineffective doormats.
The Lord’s “requirement” is not meant to be a heavy yoke or a checklist of drudgeries, though too often we are prone to performing moral acrobatics that are a vaporous illusion, a spiritual sleight of hand that damage the delicate fabric of our own souls and the souls of those we serve in the name of ourselves.
In a book entitled The God of Intimacy and Action, co-authors Tony Campolo and Mary Darling dig into this interplay between pursuit of divine intimacy and social action. Campolo and Darling assert, “God-ordained spirituality, in one way or another, must involve a commitment to intimacy with Christ that results in evangelism and justice work. … Otherwise our spirituality becomes a form of arrested spiritual development that verges on narcissism” (207).Walking with God in humility, connecting to the Vine and planting our roots by the streams of Living Water helps us reflect more and more the heart of God...
Instead, we RSVP to Jesus’s invitation to “follow me,” walking with God day to day. We engage in vital practices that cultivate intimacy in stillness, silence, and solitude, and from there, we discover an urgency to rightly call out the world’s broken, unjust systems, to see others through eyes of mercy and kindness, and to respond with wise humility to its brokenness with the heart of God to restore his intended shalom.
Walking with God in humility, connecting to the Vine and planting our roots by the streams of Living Water helps us reflect more and more the heart of God from the inside out so that justice, mercy, and humility pour forth simply as an overflow of the heart of God within us.
For a living example of this trifecta, we turn to our model—the one on whom the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and over whom the Father spoke, “This is my Son whom I love. In him I am well pleased.”
Over and over throughout the gospel accounts, we see Jesus walking humbly with God, the very mission of his life oriented around fellowship with his Father (or as the Good News Translation puts it “liv[ing] in humble fellowship with [his] God.”). He goes off to pray or retreats from the crowds to a secluded place. When he does this, the need has not dissipated, yet Jesus knows he needs the fellowship of the Father in order to find restoration in his presence, to maintain alignment with his Father’s heart, and to seek discernment along the journey.
Then when he returns or is drawn back to the crowds, his sense of his Father’s work is heightened. He sees the physical needs of others and responds with generosity. He sees the people’s spiritual hunger and thirst and responds with compassion. He sees the oppression of “the least of these” and responds with holy indignation and solidarity with the oppressed.He sees the people’s spiritual hunger and thirst and responds with compassion.
Jesus practices the intimacy he has cultivated with his Father through his overflow of justice, mercy, and humility. Campolo frames this idea as “praxis” and posits, “Our intimacy with Christ is best developed in the context of carrying out our responsibilities, as Christians, together in a community” (188). True acts of justice and mercy pave the pathway for shalom, ushering in the not-yet kingdom to the here-and-now.
According to Thomas Merton (in Thomas Merton Spiritual Master: Essential Writings), “He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas.”
Many people throughout the course of time have done justice and loved mercy, and they may have effected social change or removed one more brick from an oppressive system, but apart from walking humbly with God on the way, their efforts are only temporary and do not ultimately meet the requirement of God for shalom.
In the end, our good works do not save us or others. But they are evidence of God’s Spirit actively at work deep within those who walk humbly with him, molding and shaping us and then calling us forth in the spaces and places in which he’s planted us to reveal and usher in the justice and mercy inherent in his kingdom.