Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” guides this book. It connects our faith with our actions, joining our care for those in need with our walk with God.
In verse 8, Micah slips back into his role as God’s spokesperson, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” While a number of translations use the word “require,” you could also use “desire” to include a sense of desire and response to God’s grace. When we use the word “require,” we need to make sure that doesn’t lead us to a work-based righteousness, meaning that we somehow earn God’s reward; the Scriptural context for obedience is always based on God’s saving grace.
What we are told is that we are to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. In some ways, this is a simple and straightforward description to do what God wants.
In reflecting on God’s desire for us in Micah 6:8, we will begin with the last and move to the first. The reason for beginning with “walk humbly with God” is that this is, in reality, the basis for loving mercy and doing justice. As God’s people, we engage in those out-reaching activities through a faith-based perspective. Because of what God has done, we fully invest in healing the world around us through mercy and justice. Cultivating our walk with God provides the power and passion for us to fully engage—it grounds everything else we do.
You may recall that the walk metaphor is used often in Scripture to describe the overall direction one’s life is heading. In Deuteronomy, there are a number of references to walking in the way of the Lord, several psalms refer to a walk being blameless, and 1 John encourages us to walk in the light. This poetic picture envisions a comfortable relationship of presence with God and a life that fits into that path. The adverb “humbly” moves us away from arrogance and the egocentric need to always be better than others, to the simple acceptance of the gifts that God has placed within us. The hymn “Trust and Obey” might come to mind: “When we walk with the Lord in the light of his Word, what a glory he sheds on our way! While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.”
Secondly, God desires for us to love mercy, or, in some translations, kindness. This is the Hebrew word hesed, which can be used to refer to God’s loving kindness to us. It is interesting to note that God wants us to be drawn to mercy—having compassion for those in need. This is not always easy, as we see so much human need; it is on our street corners and bombards us in the media. Rather than mercy, it is easy for our hearts to harden and our minds to judge. These people are being both foolish and manipulative. They are taking advantage of our care. And we need to hear God say once again, “As one of my people, I hope you love mercy—for that is what you have received.”
Finally, God tells us to do justice. This action-orientated desire of God simply says to do it. Perhaps you struggle to know what it means to do justice. How did I do justice this past week? What does it look like? We have often defined justice by placing it primarily in a political, economic, or judicial realm. These definitions make it difficult to identify that we are doing justice on a regular basis. Where are our courts and police malfunctioning? What laws or practices allow for racial discrimination? What businesses take advantage of low-income people and charge them exorbitant interest rates? While these are indeed a part of social injustice, and we must fully engage in them, they can be distant from our daily lives. We’d like to make “social justice” a bit more accessible by developing a definition that would be useful for all Christians.
Our definition of justice is “to create a world where all people have equal opportunity to fully develop the gifts that God has placed within them.” While this does include the bigger political, judicial, and economic challenges we face, it can also include more basic activities, like a program that provides tutors so that kids in urban school settings have the same opportunities to learn to read as suburban kids. Justice is supporting an overwhelmed single parent who is struggling to find the time and resources to give adequate time to his or her children. Justice is taking in a foster child. Justice is employing a person coming out of prison. Justice is a host of other activities that level the playing field and provide equal opportunity for all.
Doing justice is also developmental, meaning that we don’t simply give things away to meet a need, but we help people help themselves. Using the well-known fishing metaphor, we don’t just give people a fish, but we teach them how to fish. In our daily lives, we all have the opportunity to do justice with actions that help people help themselves. In this, we are creating an environment where people can thrive and achieve their full potential.