“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Walking into the Joni and Friends International Disability Center, the first thing you see is the Floating Chapel and Reflective Pool Fountain. As you walk closer, you are met with a Bible verse inscribed on the bottom of the fountain: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24, NIV).
For Joni and Friends, disability ministry is a call to action, it is an intentional endeavor to ensure justice and righteousness is done on behalf of the disabled community globally.
Having checked the justice and righteousness box on behalf of people living with disability, can we at Joni and Friend raise the ‘mission accomplished’ banner?
Of course not.
In fact, the context of Amos 5 can shed light on the answer to that question. In the first four chapters of Amos, God’s striking rebuke of His people is outlined in the format of a funeral dirge. God sings His grief through Amos and the content of this funeral song can be instructive as we consider what it means to be a nation under God.
1. Seek the LORD and Live (Amos 5:4-7)
At the outset of this cryptic funeral dirge is an invitation to seek God and live. God is not found in a physical place… not in Bethel, Gilgal, Beer-sheba, or a particular country.
God is found where justice and righteousness are done.
2. Perversions of Justice (Amos 5:8-17)
God lays bare Israel’s perversions of justice so that there is no dispute. The list is appalling and fascinating:
- Hatred when the guilty are convicted
- Despising the speech of those who possess integrity
- Trampling and overtaxing the poor
- Oppressing the righteous
- Depriving the poor of justice
The consequence is that those who remain silent now in the face of injustice will be silenced when God’s judgment comes. God demands that we love and pursue what is good, which requires hating and avoiding that which is evil.
Silence is not an option.
3. The Day of the Lord (Amos 5:18-20)
Israel and Judah envisioned the Day of the LORD to be times of peace, prosperity, and blessings. However, because of their profound failure to uphold justice and righteousness, God says that the Day of the LORD will produce chaos, calamity, and cursing.
4. Rejected Offerings (Amos 5:21-23)
When there is no justice in the land, God says that He hates, rejects, and despises Israel’s solemn feasts, sacred festivals, and sacrificial offerings. Our worship and service to God is stench in His nostrils when we do not uphold justice and righteousness.
5. What God Wants (Amos 5:24)
If God rejects our worship and service, what does He want from us? God is saying, “I don’t want your stuff, but what I do want and require is that you ‘let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
So, how do we apply Amos 5 in the context of the brutal murder of George Floyd and the resulting backlash?
Christians will respond in various ways but it is clear that remaining silent in the face of injustice is not an option.
Some will pray powerfully for social justice and equality. Others will pursue direct action and peacefully protest in our troubled streets. Others will channel their outrage into votes to advocate for electoral change.
From individual voices to structural renewal, speaking up to stand with George Floyd and other persons of color who have been abused by rogue law enforcement officers across America means having risky conversations. Those may take place on social media, one-on-one, among families, in churches, or between members of different political parties.
But silence is not an option.
This biblical truth underlies the Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s statement that he fired the three other police officers present at the murder of George Floyd because “silence is an action.” They were “complicit” because of their silence.
And as the inscription of Amos 5:24 in a fountain at the center of the Joni and Friends headquarters testifies to our Christian conviction that the costly pursuit of justice and righteousness is at the core of God’s heart, may it be true of each of us every day.