In his book “The Irony Of American History,” Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
Former FBI Director James Comey, who posed on Twitter as Reinhold Niebuhr until he was discovered and started using his own moniker, has sought to champion a Niebuhr-like presence in the midst of our national tweet-fest. In fact, Avi Self of The Washington Post has dubbed him our national “Twitter Prophet.”
Never miss a local story.
Following the public demise of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying regarding conversations with Russia’s ambassador, Comey used his 120 characters to retweet an eighth-century BCE Bible prophet named Amos: “But let justice flow down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
How quickly Comey forgot the wisdom of his Niebuhr alias and its admonition on virtue and self-awareness. Comey also fails to understand justice in the context that Amos was tweeting. At first glance, Amos seemed to offer a politically smug Israel the same comeuppance Comey was seeking, as Amos warmed up with choice words of judgment toward Israel’s enemies. That is, until the tide quickly turned and Israel realized that the raging river of justice was headed her way. Through Amos, God clarified that Israel’s unbelief and disobedience should never be measured against her political enemies, but against the law they swore to obey before God at Mount Sinai. Amos was delivering the just sanctions of the law, which meant exile and destruction for Israel. Had Twitter offered Comey more characters, he could have tweeted the full context from the great prophet:
“I hate and despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the music of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But, let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream! Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel? You have lifted up the shrine of your king, the pedestal of your idols, the star of your god, which you made for yourselves. Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus, says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty” (Amos 5:21-27).
That justice tweet was not good news for the nation of Israel, which ultimately fell to Assyria in 722 BC. Nor is it good news for Comey — or the rest of humanity facing exile from the Kingdom of God. Nor did it make God’s spokesman, Amos, very famous. He was ultimately banned from his Twitter account and silenced altogether. And in the first century, when Amos’ words were retweeted by Stephen in the Book of Acts, Stephen was stoned and enshrined as the first Christian martyr.
No, Mr. Comey, you have missed the Christian paradox altogether. Instead of offering the same words of grace that canceled your eternal indictment, you opted to retweet judgment by smugly comparing yourself to your neighbor, rather than humbly acknowledging what your King requires of you. A more Christ-like tweet, a tweet with the humility that is the responsibility of the Christian, would sound a lot like Stephen’s retweet as he faced his murderers, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
As we beat our national chest that the word Christmas is back en vogue, let’s not forget where justice and righteousness ultimately did roll on like an ever-flowing stream. That reckoning was at Calvary, where the consequences of our guilty plea were poured on the perfect son of a virgin birth, and we received an offering acceptable to God.
In view of the swift justice we collectively escaped, and the forgiveness that was awarded in its place, perhaps Comey would consider tweeting a blessing like the greater prophet gave him. Maybe, in light of the Christmas season, he might tweet once more as Reinhold Niebuhr:
“Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”
Only 78 characters, yet what better way to usher in some character this Christmas.
Mindi Bach of Meridian is a local businesswoman, mom and parishioner at Faith Community Bible Church in Boise.