Roll Like a River

Let justice roll like a river, like a river let it roll
Let justice roll like a river, like a river let it roll
Let it roll
Let it roll

A few weeks ago, I stood with my church family and let that powerful song flow through me. I closed my eyes and belted out the words and felt them down to my toes.

The world has been so ugly lately.

Correction: The world has always been ugly, but lately it's been punching us in the face hard enough to draw blood. It’s everywhere: Oppression. Destruction. Hate. Pain. Suffering. Nature, cruel and indifferent. Mankind, cruel and indifferent.

Our only hope - my only hope - is that God is neither of those things. That he is good, and that he cares to the point of painful death. That's the truth I’m trying to cling to.

So on that particular day, so overwhelmed by evil on all sides that I didn't even know how to pray or what to ask for, I lifted up my hands to him and cried out, "Just wipe it all away! Unmake the evil systems we've designed. Wash away our selfishness and greed. Let justice roll like a river!"

Then a chill washed over me. I had to sit down for a moment. I stopped singing as the truth sank in.

Straight talk: I am an educated white woman in my forties. I have three white children with bright and promising futures. Under the existing systems and structures, they will be able to have any life they want. So here's the truth that faces me. It's a hard truth and a deeply personal one.

If justice rolls like a river, it will roll over me.

I have everything to lose. I live in the valley of white privilege, protected by the dam of systemic injustice. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t build the dam: I was born in its shade, and it is sweet down here. The grass is green. My children are happy. Their future is secure. There's a reason no one wants to blow up the dam, you know? A whole new world might not be as idyllic for me and mine.

Please believe me: I hate that only a few get to live in this valley. I hate that people are literally dying of thirst downstream, that others drown in the overflow or get shot trying to find a way in. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love my easy life.

Am I truly ready to put myself in the hands of a righteous God? Am I ready to call down his justice and let the waters wash away structures that keep my family comfortable? Am I ready for my children to be set adrift with only his mercy to steer them?

Those are big questions. But there’s another one that’s so, so much bigger.

If I’m not ready for that, what am I doing pretending to worship him?

Here is the God I claim to follow:

This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. “When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah‬ 7:9-13,‬ NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬)

I said I wanted him to care, right? He cares. He cares so much that his anger is burning.

And this:

So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place. Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the realm of the dead will not stand. When the overwhelming scourge sweeps by, you will be beaten down by it. As often as it comes it will carry you away; morning after morning, by day and by night, it will sweep through.” The understanding of this message will bring sheer terror. (Isaiah‬ 28:16-19,‬ NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬)

Yes, it is terrifying. The idea of God sweeping us away along with the structure of lies we've built.

But he already laid the foundation of our new home. The cornerstone is himself, and the foundation is as secure as it is righteous. And all those who were walled out of our little valley have a place inside. It’s everything we say we want. And it’s just on the other side of the flood.

It’s time, don’t you think?

It's time to stop being afraid of the destruction of the valley. It's time to let the flood carry us on to new heights.

Away with the noise 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! (Amos‬ 5:23-24‬, NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬)

Amen. Let it roll.

Image: Christiaan Josi, "Dike Breach Near Bemmel, 1799"