The River Is Dry

“But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

This week’s news cycle has been gut-wrenching. In the wake of the 240th birthday of what has been one of the greatest nation’s this world has seen – a nation which has championed freedom globally and fought against forces which are truly evil and tyrannical to defend some of the most vulnerable peoples on earth – we are now walking through some very dark days. Two men were killed, one in Louisiana and one in Minnesota, who would have been far less likely to die if their skin had been a different color. Five police officers have been murdered in Dallas by hate-fueled, self-appointed vengeance-seekers. The director of the FBI outlined in painstaking detail a litany of blatant offenses and “careless” mishandling of our nation’s most sensitive data by the former Secretary of State, then informed us that he would recommend no charges against her. All the while, more than 14,500 unborn children’s lives have been taken in this country this week.

All of this wrong. All of this is evil. None of this is just.

But this post is not intended to be a political statement. My aim is more pastoral than political, and I pray we will recognize that how we as followers of Jesus respond in today’s moment of stark injustice may determine whether our friends, neighbors, and communities will hear anything we want to share about Christ and his salvation later.

What you and I say as Christians in an un-Christian culture matters. What you and I DO as Christians in a culture of rampant injustice matters even more. It is not enough for any one of us to assume that because we as individuals have not harbored hate, abused our neighbors, or cheered the oppression of others, that we are excused from responding. It is not enough to watch out for you and your family and let others fend for themselves. In some of Israel’s darkest days, the Lord condemned the nation for trampling the poor and denying justice to the vulnerable among them.  This is what the Lord declared to the entire nation through the prophet Amos:

I hate, I despise your feasts,

and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

I will not accept them;

and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,

I will not look upon them.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24)

 

Now America is not Israel. We should not hold onto any notions that our nation is in any way God’s chosen people to do his work on earth. But we as Christians in this nation (or any nation) recognize the unchanging heart of God and his passion for the poor and the weak. We are responsible to speak and to act in the name of righteousness and justice. In the case of Amos’s prophecy above, it’s safe to assume that only a small percentage of Israelites were in a position to actively oppress the poor. Yet the entire nation, including religious folks who likely thought they were just minding their own business, were chastised. God rejected their feasts, their sacrifices, and their songs because they turned a blind eye toward the injustice surrounding them.

We cannot afford to remain silent.

As you are processing the continuing onslaught of news and opinions in the coming days, here are a few suggestions for responding to our cultural crisis as an ambassador for the Kingdom of God.

We need more priests and fewer prophets. I was taught in Sunday school the basic difference between the role of the prophet and the priest. Prophets spoke to the people for God. Priests went to God for the people. We have plenty of people (or far too many) presuming to declare the words of the Almighty in the aftermath of these crises. (And have you noticed how it seems that in most cases God agrees with the political preferences of the speaker?) Instead of thundering God’s judgment on those with whom we disagree, let’s embrace the role of the priest. Go to God and pray for our people. Pray for our nation, for our leaders, and for our neighbors. Pray for your own heart, your family, and your church. Perhaps we will find a shorter path to mercy and justice by pleading our case to our Father in Heaven than to our neighbor on Facebook.

Lay down your weapons. Now is not the time for political agendas or defending your rights. Yes, our president infamously said we should never waste a crisis. That view is politically shrewd and morally despicable. We cannot and should not ever use someone else’s pain or loss as a springboard for our own political preferences. Right now we do not need to hear about your Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Constitutional, pro-gun, anti-gun, black life, blue life, or any other political conviction. Right now we need to hear and see that you are a redeemed child of God who sees and weeps over raw injustice.

Mourn with those who mourn. Following closely on the previous point, this is the principle that guides us in our interactions with others in these days. For those of us who cannot personally identify with the experiences of our black neighbors or those who serve in law enforcement, this can be difficult. But all of us have experienced grief and all of us know the fear of the unknown. There is nothing inappropriate with a simple statement that acknowledges your limitations to your neighbor: “I’m not sure if I completely understand what you’re experiencing, but I’m heartbroken over these tragedies, and I hate that we are sharing a world that is so broken.” In a day of national mourning, let us bring comfort by sharing in mourning and acknowledging the reality that this world and this country is not a just place for far too many.

  • Let us mourn for the children who woke up fatherless today and don’t understand why Daddy is gone.
  • Let us mourn for the young widow whose bed will be half-empty tonight.
  • Let us mourn for the parents who fear for their children’s lives whenever they leave the home because of the color of their skin.
  • Let us mourn for the families who are waiting anxiously each day to see whether their loved one in law enforcement returns home safely from their next shift of work.
  • Let us mourn for our nation that has rejected God’s authority even while presuming on his favor, and now struggles to comprehend the destruction we have brought upon ourselves.
  • Let us mourn for leaders who have routinely used tragedy to deepen division among our people rather than speaking and pointing toward unity.
  • Let us mourn for ourselves when we are tempted to believe that we can be silent or unaffected because these tragedies were not in our own backyard.
  • Let us mourn because the waters of justice have run dry.

 

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