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Maintaining the Flow of Justice

Seasonal waterfalls in Hoosier National Forest in southern Indiana remind me about the importance of maintaining the flow of justice.

A friend and I drove over to the forest recently to photograph the waterfalls at Hemlock Cliffs National Scenic Trail.

Our area had received several days of rain and we thought it would be a good time to check the falls out. It turned out to be the perfect time to be there. Both of the waterfalls on the trail had an abundance of water.

I was excited to have the opportunity to photograph the falls because these are seasonal waterfalls. The only other time I had been on the trail, there was only a trickle of water coming over the falls.

I found myself wishing that the falls always looked like they did during this trip. It would be wonderful to visit this area throughout the seasons and photograph the beautiful waterfalls but that’s not going to happen.

These falls are dependent on weather systems that will not support this, and I have no control over that.

Thinking about the contrast in the water flow between my two visits, my mind wandered to the ancient words of the prophet Amos, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24).

Most of the streams in the land of Israel, like the falls at Hemlock Cliffs, are seasonal. The streambeds or wadis remain dry until the rains come. Soon thereafter they are dry again.

Through the prophet, God declared that the justice he saw lacking in the land was meant to flow constantly like a steady river or a never-failing stream.

Amos spent his time pointing out to Israel the many places where injustice raised its ugly head.

It was obvious that God was not pleased with the way his people had ignored his calls that justice be practiced among all.

Only occasionally was justice practiced. That’s why there was the plea to let justice and righteousness flow on a regular basis. God’s people, then and now, fall short when justice issues are ignored.

I have a feeling that God is still trying to get this message across to people today.

We live in a world where injustice continues to be prevalent. We hear most often about matters pertaining to racial injustice, but there are many other arenas where injustice occurs on a regular basis.

It happens in the arena of fair wages, gender discrimination, food distribution, penal incarceration and age discrimination. Many environmental issues are justice issues as well.

Today, Christians cannot afford to remain silent in the face of injustice.

If we do, we shouldn’t be surprised if God tells us the same thing he did Israel long ago: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. 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 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 5:21-24).

No matter how big the crowds, how glorious the music or inspirational the preaching, our worship services are found unsatisfactory to God if we are not at the same time committed to maintaining justice.

I cannot change the weather to make the water flow more freely at Hemlock Cliffs but I can make a difference in whether the river of justice continues to flow, and so can you.

May God help us all to do just that.

Chuck Summers is a pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Henderson, Kentucky. He is also a photographer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines and calendars; he has published three photography books. A version of this article first appeared on Seeing Creation, a blog that Summers co-authors with Rob Sheppard, and is used with permission.