Today’s Chocolate: Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint
Today’s Passage: Amos 6
Sometimes I wonder just how typical my youth group was of youth groups in the 90s.
A big part of the culture was the push to get out of your comfort zone. Whether evangelism or service projects or leading a Bible Study, everyone was striving to be Peter on the water, walking out to Jesus; the prevailing catch phrase was “Get out of the boat.” I bought into it, in word and deed, disdaining that oft-reviled “comfort zone,” but as soon as I left for college, I severely dialed back my zeal for discomfort. And in retrospect, I think it was because a part of me was never entirely on board with getting out of the boat.
Of course, from a Biblical standpoint, comfort isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Jesus himself tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4), which wouldn’t be much of a blessing if to be comforted were inherently bad. And in one of his best-known psalms, David declares to God, “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). David is familiar with the tools of a shepherd: the rod, a striking implement, is used to strike and deter predators, while the staff, with its round hook-shaped head, is used to guide and lead the sheep. Author Phillip Keller, based on his experiences with shepherds in Kenya, observes that the rod may also be used as a corrective tool for wayward sheep. That’s right: the rod and staff bring comfort specifically through that #1 hit single of the summer, discipline.
There’s a time and a place for comfort. But make no mistake, that time and that place were not the Israel of Amos’ day. The prophet speaks: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion and to those who feel secure in the mountain of Samaria” (6). God’s judgment is knocking at the door, but these “distinguished men of Israel” ignore the prophets’ warnings and lounge in luxury. Amos aggressively describes their self-indulgent opulence:
Those who recline on beds of ivory
And sprawl on their couches,
And eat lambs from the flock
And calves from the midst of the stall,
Who improvise to the sound of the harp,
And like David have composed songs for themselves,
Who drink wine from sacrificial bowls
While they anoint themselves with the finest of oils,
Yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph. (4-6).
These men have the best food, the best drink, the best furnishings, and the leisure time to enjoy it all. But what’s so bad about that? Haven’t they earned their wealth?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and hazard a guess: no. What they have is a gift that God has given them, and instead of sharing it in the same spirit of generosity with which God granted it to them, they spend it all on their own hedonistic pleasures. And undergirding their behavior is an attitude of pride. Amos reports, “The Lord God of hosts has declared: I loathe the arrogance of Jacob, and detest his citadels” (8). At a time when Israel is hip-deep in evil, when its people should be lamenting and repenting, the rich are celebrating their high economic and social position without a thought for the oppressed. They’ve turned their citadels into Bad Comfort Zones.
In contemporary America, we too have no shortage of available comforts. Heating and air conditioning, meat and wine, massage chairs and hot tubs: things that ancient Israel would have considered unthinkable luxuries are right at our fingertips. But what are we doing with all these resources God has given us? And in order to enjoy them, do we have to turn a blind eye to the pervasive evil and injustice that would overwhelm us with grief if we stopped to consider it? Where are we getting our comfort?
I wonder if I’m living in a Bad Comfort Zone.