“let justice roll on like a river!”
Let’s talk about values. We all have personal values which are heartfelt. What I personally value is not necessarily something you have to value. I may really like the color purple, but you are free to hate it. You may really like travelling to warm climates in the winter, but I don’t have to join you. But what God values is different. We are created in the image of God, we are to become like Jesus Christ. Here is the principle you can take to the bank: whatever God values, we are to learn to value. As you read the Bible, if you come across something that gets God really excited, then that’s a cue for us, for a value for us to adopt.
Amos 5:24 proclaims, “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” God values justice. God values fairness. Although I have a minor complaint about Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” translation, I do like it because he emphasizes the values of God:
“Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That's what I want. That's all I want.”
To live out who God has called us to be, justice has to a part of our passion, to make a difference in the world when unfairness creeps into the life of our neighbor, when injustice is rampant, when people are struggling. Alzheimer’s seems so unfair. Poverty is not right. People struggling for basic needs. Hurting relationships.
Go back to the beginning of this scripture: “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord.” The scripture goes on to say you are fooling yourself because the day of the Lord won’t be a good thing for you because there is a problem. The Day of the Lord is a concept that evolves through-out the Bible: a Day is coming, and the Lord will rescue you, and you can have confidence and assurance. As the Old Testament unfolds into the New Testament, and Jesus Christ bursts onto the scene, the understanding of the Day of the Lord is enlarged, so that we, on this side of the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ, look forward to the Lord returning. We call it the Second Coming of Christ, for it says in Acts, just as you saw him leave, he will return. This is what the word Advent refers to in "Advent Christian."
The Day of the Lord gave the people great comfort, to look forward to a heavenly reward, and Amos comes along and challenges their comfort, their security (Amos 5:19-20). Then Amos turns on their religious practices (Amos 5:21-23). There is a problem. The people have missed part of God’s calling on their life.
Then comes the great THUNDER of what God most values, "Let justice roll on like a river." This is why he pays no attention to their sacrifices. Your life is not right with Christ because you care nothing for those who are struggling or those who are hurting. You don’t even see them. “Let justice roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream.” You’ve heard the saying, “Don’t be so heavenly minded, you do no earthly good.”
It’s our privilege to care about other people. As a kid once in a while an old Adventist preacher would deliver a traditional message about the second coming of Christ; I remember thinking to myself, “I hope that when Christ returns I won’t even notice, because I’ll be too busy helping other people to be paying attention.”
This is a picky point, but instead of “river” the Message chose to translate 5:24 with “ocean.” Ocean emphasizes the vast volume of justice. But river is different. You know what’s different between the Nooksack River when it’s flooding and the Ocean? I’ve stood at the ocean many times and it is impressive. The waves go in and out, and come crashingdown only to recede again. But the movement of the river is the better translation. Amos is getting at the steady flow of justice.
This is important, it’s the action of justice that God values. Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never ending stream. That’s what I want, that’s all I want. People who love the Lord are to be involved continuously in making a difference. Too often we think of justice as something we empower our politicians to do – we want them to come up with the perfect formula to set our social policy so that all will be right with the world. Currently we are debating healthcare… As Christians we should engage in that discussion and work towards whatever is best for our nation, but what Amos is saying seems to be a little bit different. Like a never ending stream, may justice and righteousness be a part of your life, your passion, your actions.
Think of it this way, Alzheimers is really unfair. I don’t know how to take it away. But to give our wonderful people with Alzheimers a choice of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, or Mountain Berry is dignity. Let justice roll on like a river. Justice is an action.
It’s unfair, a young teenager is inflicted with a disease that leaves her without hair. I don’t know how to take away the effects of the disease, I don’t know how to cure all illnesses, but you know what can be done? They can fashion real hair onto a form so that the form is vacuum sealed to the child’s head and only the child can take off the hair. Suddenly the child can swim, run, take a shower, another child can tug on the hair, and perhaps recapture a little bit of what it is like to have real hair. Maybe the answer is not perfect, but it’s something. Let justice roll on like a river.
Over the years Sally and I have been helped a tremendous amount. When we were young students in the early days of our marriage, we were shown the kindness of people in a 1000 ways, such as timely gifts, meals at restaurants, commodities when we were at Fuller. Justice is an attitude of helping others, provide a lift. If justice is like a never-failing river that means it works both ways with people giving and receiving.
I heard an amazing statistic this week. 43 young people in Nooksack Valley’s middle and high school this year have no permanent address. One person is attempting to get organized to find ways to bring stability so that those young people can stay in the same district, because stability in an unstable world is incredibly important. How unfair and wrong it is for those young people to be short-changed a home, yet to try and make a difference is a good thing.
God is passionate about justice. He is passionate about people helping people and people making a difference to others. We may never reach full perfection in this life, but the Lord is only asking us to take action. Let justice roll on like a river.
The people in Amos days were blind to the disadvantaged around them. All they could do was think not only about how good they had it, but how much God loved them, and the Day of the Lord was soon coming to affirm all their loveliness. And God says don’t be so smug. Look around and bring about justice as a way of life, bring a little bit of dignity, accept help when you need it, justice is like a constantly flowing river not where every disease is healed or every disadvantage settled, not every heartache will be taken away, but it’s the activity of justice, the never-failing flow of kindness, the attitude, the constancy, the way of life. Justice is what God values.
The river of justice is how you understand the heart of God. As you open your eyes to the needs of the world, the heart of God comes into focus. The Day of the Lord Lord is suddenly the completion of what your life is seeking to attain. For those who seek justice for all, for those who are available to make a difference in the world, I can hear the words of Amos, rather than “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord, well, “Blessed are those who long for the day of the Lord…”
Seek justice, and the promise of the Day of the Lord is a gift from God. As we seek to make a difference, the Day of the Lord is a vision of the Day when God will set everything right. God making everything new is a vision that keeps us going. We cannot heal Alzheimer, but we can give those afflicted a choice of ice cream flavors. God values justice and it is our privilege to seek it out and make a difference. And the day is coming, when God will complete the work of justice, and everything will be made new.
SACC, Carl Crouse, October 18, 2009