Sharing bad news is a call to humility

Published 8:00 am Sunday, July 17, 2022

By Charles Qualls

No matter the topic, one of the scariest things a pastor ever has to do is to tell a church member “no.” Breaking bad news isn’t fun. To be clear, it comes with the job. Folks ask for things, or ask questions, without seeing the bigger picture. Their bias, sympathy or thoughts on something may be all they can see.

So unfortunately part of our work is breaking hard news to people who, when they asked the question, probably never considered that a no would even be an option. In these situations, there’s never a good enough way. You can nuance. You can be polite, and you can be as savvy as you want to be. Extremely unhealthy people will go and tell someone you were ugly to them, when all you did was give them the responsible answer.  

In Amos 7:7-17, the prophet by the same name was up against a chief priest and a king. He may well have been the very first prophet whose words were actually written down. The prophet Amos broke bad news in our Scripture today. In doing so, he made both the church and the government mad. 

Amos protested that he was a layman. He protested that he was not a prophet, nor even the “son of a prophet,” which doesn’t speak so much to genealogy as it may to him not belonging to an organized, recognized school of prophets.

My friend, the late Randall Lolley, points out that Amos was raised in the school of hard knocks instead. Tekoa, his home village in the southern kingdom, was only six miles from Bethlehem. Tekoa was 12 miles from Jerusalem, 22 miles from Bethel across the line in the northern kingdom. Samaria was a two-day journey. 

Amos was a desert shepherd keeping desert sheep. He traveled to all these trade centers. He saw how foreigners were treated. He saw how tradesmen could be cheated or done-in economically by a merchandising system that was imbalanced in the favor of the powerful wealthy buyers or distributors.

He saw the golden bull in Bethel that was being worshiped, while people would also go through the motions at the Temple there. The rich were getting richer through ill-gotten gains. The poor were getting poorer by not getting their fair shake. 

There were faulty weights being used in trade. Seemingly no one’s word was their bond. Bribes were many and varied, Lolley says. Land-grabbing was rampant, and the courts were corrupt. You could lose what was yours in a heartbeat, it seemed. You could grab what you had no rightful title to, and then still go bow in the Temple on the Sabbath. With no recompense needed. 

We have two things central to our Scripture story here. One of them was a prophecy from God that was being mistaken for a personal opinion. The other was the consequences of turning a blind eye to what God sees. 

Someone has said to pastors that people don’t really want to hear our opinions. They actually want to hear their opinions coming out of our mouths. That could sound pessimistic. I wish it were. I think more of us are that way than we realize.  

What was coming from the mouth of the prophet Amos wasn’t Israel’s opinion. It was God’s. Amos pointed out that they were crooked. They were out of line. 

God had standards by which people were intended to live. No, we’re not just talking about what people drink, smoke, watch or who they spend their nights with. God had set a plumb line. The people were out of square. That’s the hard news that Amos, and the other prophets in the Old Testament like him, had to break.

This is a call to humility. It is a difficult one. Lolley points out that Israel, the northern kingdom, didn’t know. But it had 30 years left on the world map as Amos spoke. By 722 BCE, as you may remember, this thriving kingdom that Amos tried to warn — but that instead repelled Amos and banished him to shut up and go back home — that very kingdom fell to the neighboring Assyrians.

Perhaps Amos speaks to us, too. Maybe Amos says, “You’d better be careful what you’re a part of. You’d better be careful who you don’t care about. You’d better be careful about what you let happen to children of God who get mistreated, taken advantage of and sometimes just stomped down by people who hold more power.”

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.