“As a result, I have begun to strike you severely, bringing desolation because of your sins.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
When I was in college, I read a book that had a profound impact on my views on sin and grace. Of the two, it had the most transformative impact on my thinking about sin. It wasn’t simply that the ideas the author expressed were so profound (although they certainly were), it was that the way he presented them was so compelling. He used imagery that I can still call to mind in detail all these years later. The basic premise was this: Most of the way we think about sin ranges from silly to wrong, and if we don’t think about sin rightly, we won’t be able to understand just how amazing grace really is. I think what we see here in Micah helps to reinforce this important truth.
By the way, now that I’ve perhaps gotten you all curious about the book, it’s called, The Smell of Sin and the Fresh Air of Grace. The author is Don Everts. You can get a Kindle version on Amazon, but to get a hard copy you need to look on EBay or Thriftbooks.com.
Everts starts out in the book presenting the different false ways we often think about sin. One of these is that sin is like forbidden fun. This particular misconception is taught everywhere in our culture. Anything the Scriptures teach is sinful you can find someone to proclaim it fun. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to keep you from something good. They need to loosen up and live a little. They need to let themselves experience some of the joys of life rather than saying, “No,” all the time. That kind of constant self-denial probably isn’t good for you anyway. This is the whole premise of the movie Footloose.
And this sounds really good to hear. It’s what we want to hear. We want to sin. It’s in our pre-Christ nature to do it and even after we have accepted Him as Lord still the battle between our two natures rages inside of us (see Romans 7:15-25). Anything that can give the old man an edge it will take and use to coax us back. And, when we first get into the sin, it is fun. It does feel good.
I got poison ivy for the first time in my life the summer before last. I actually managed to get it four times that summer. It was awesome. But because I’d never had it before, I didn’t know anything about caring for it. Whenever I have gotten mosquito bites over the years, my go-to remedy is to run really hot water over them. It gives all the relief of itching without actually scratching and hurting the skin or leaving a sore. The first few days after my poison ivy appeared, not knowing to do anything else, I used my go-to. And it worked beautifully. Total itch relief for a while. Then the poison ivy spread. I figured it was because of my clothes and the little bit of scratching I did. I used the hot water again. And again. And again. But each time, the spreading got worse and the relief was shorter lived. Then I learned that hot water actually makes the poison ivy oils release and spread. The thing I was turning to for relief was the thing that was making it worse.
When we first get into sin it feels good in the same way the hot water brought relief to my itching those first few times. It feels wonderful (and if it doesn’t we aren’t doing it right…although there are worse things than being bad at sinning). The more we do it, though, we begin to discover something: It brings a series of diminishing returns. It brings a series of diminishing returns that can actually become a judgment in and of themselves. This is kind of like what we see God talking about here in Micah 6.
What we see God doing in this verse is promising judgment on the people for their sins. They’ve gone past the point that small and subtle reminders to get back on track are going to work. Judgment is coming. But then, in the next couple of verses where He begins laying out the judgment, we don’t find what we might have been expecting if we stopped here and simply guessed what came next.
We might have expected something about fiery judgment like what Sodom and Gomorrah experienced. We might have expected Him to talk more about Babylon or the Assyrians invading and destroying the nation as they went. Instead, though, look at what He does say.
“You will eat but not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty. You will store up but save nothing, because what you save I will give to the sword. You will plant but not harvest; you will press olives but not use the oil, you will crush grapes but not drink the wine.”
Now, this certainly doesn’t sound good, but it doesn’t sound all that awful either. I mean, this sounds like something we could just endure and not really make very many changes to the way we do things. People in this country in the Midwest survived the horrors of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s. That time was awful. It was very much like what God describes here in many ways. We don’t have any reason to think it was judgment, though, just one of the perils of living in a broken world.
Why would God describe this as their judgment and what could He be trying to accomplish by this? Well, what would life be like under these circumstances? Rough, sure but rough how? It would be empty and futile. They’d be doing all the same kinds of things they’d normally be doing but without the normal results of those coming to fruition. In other words, they would be experiencing the reality of sin in a way they couldn’t help but see. God was essentially saying, “This stuff happening on the outside is like what the sin is doing on your insides.”
You see, sin never delivers on its promises. It makes grand promises of fun and festivity. It’s like Pleasure Island from the movie Pinocchio. It looks like a carnival and starts out really fun, but then reality sets in and it’s all a lie. It’s empty. It’s a plastic feast. It doesn’t satisfy. Where you chase after it, it will leave you feeling emptier than when you started.
The path of life isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s often hard. It’s steep and narrow. Jesus Himself said so. But it will fill you. It will deliver on what it promises. It will make you content and whole. Learn the lesson the easy way. Learn from the bad example of Israel. Reality—real reality—is always better than the fantasies of sin.