“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”Amos 5:24
The result of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quiet confidence forever.Isaiah 32:17
There have been cries for justice all over the place this past week. Justice to be served for wrongful killings by police, justice to be served for looting and rioting, justice for systemic problems in our fallen government, the list goes on. There are calls for peace as well, but justice and peace seem to be at odds with each other. Those who desire justice want those who desire peace to be quiet because justice won’t be enacted if everything is swept under the rug for the sake of peace. Those who want peace tell those who want justice that justice is impossible, especially in the ways they’re pursuing it. It ends up becoming an unproductive shouting match and justice and peace are still just as elusive as ever. Can justice and peace ever be accomplished together? Scripture promises us that they will converge perfectly in the new creation, but what about now? Is it even worth pursuing? I think so.
Look in The Mirror
In this already-not-yet time, where the new creation has already begun in Christ but won’t be completed till his return, we have to understand that it won’t be perfect. However, the fallen nature of our efforts shouldn’t keep us from trying to pursue justice and peace. Although we want to (and should at times) talk about systems, politics, inequality, and history, it starts with individuals and the reconciliation that needs to happen there.
It starts with us. It starts with looking in the mirror. The gospel offers healing and reconciliation to God and others through confession and repentance. To gain your life you have to lose it. Through death to self there’s life. Our imagined righteousness we claim must be laid waste and seen as filthy rags. Grace must devastate us before it heals. We have to ask ourselves hard questions and own what we need to. Confession and repentance is a sort of death-to-life reality that needs to be lived in all of us daily. I’m in no position to prescribe to each individual conscience what needs to happen here. We just need to all ask ourselves to be softened to the Spirit and respond accordingly.
Justice Comes to Bring Peace
We see this dynamic of justice that brings peace throughout Scripture (click link for a great video on this). One passage that has partly been made famous by events surrounding racial inequality, especially during the civil rights movement, is Amos 5:24. We read there, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” That passage is in the middle of a judgement ridden book that lays out all of the idolatry, pride, and societal injustice that Israel was guilty of. Only at the end of the book do we see a promised peace for God’s people, and it’s only in the last 5 verses of the entire book where we see God’s people restored. God’s peace comes after God’s justice and judgement.
In Amos, the waters of justice and righteousness rearrange everything, they completely destroy all that is built on injustice and is unstable due to its shaky foundation. It’s important to note that Israel was called out for injustice in society, but it was always in light of the deep worship problem they had. Only those who found refuge in God himself can be saved from the flood. David uses similar language in Psalm 32, foreshadowing the salvation accomplished by Christ. Notice how salvation comes…
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is faithful pray to you immediately. When great floodwaters come, they will not reach him.
It Comes for Everyone
The flood of justice and righteousness will cover the earth. By it’s nature it rearranges everyone’s life. Some leave their old life and run to the Rock, some stay behind in their injustice and unrighteousness and are swept away. No one is excluded from the effects of the flood, but the question is, have you found your refuge in the Rock? Have you built your life around justice and mercy and demonstrated, however imperfectly, that you have been shown mercy yourself? Has the flood of righteousness and justice changed the landscape of your life through the habit of confession and repentance?
If we as the church have looked in the mirror and allowed grace to devastate our self-righteousness and humble us before we point the finger at others, we can begin to work for justice and righteousness that leads to peace here on earth. Although that peace will certainly be imperfect and temporary, that doesn’t mean we don’t work for it! It doesn’t mean we don’t reevaluate our hearts and our government systems because “it’s all just gonna to be burned up one day”. In fact, the future hope should cause us to be dissatisfied with the current situation. Out of love for God and neighbor we should fight for justice, fight for life, fight for all people who are made in the image of God.
Moving Forward With Eyes Wide Open
This sure is going to be messy. We are short-sighted sinners who contribute to the brokenness, and we’re called to fight for and love sinners who are in the same boat. Sinners try to gain justice in their own rebellious ways. Sinners shift blame. Sinners are blind to their own destructive behavior. Sinners have a worship problem. But just because sinners pursue justice wrongly doesn’t negate the fact that justice is still needed in our relationships and society. Romans 2:4 says“the kindness of God lead them to repentance”. Jesus didn’t call tax collectors and prostitutes to himself and allow them to keep living the way they wanted to live. They were blown away by his grace and love, and turned to Christ because of how compelling he was. He spoke up for them when he confronted the religious system that ostracized them, but also called them to repent as well.
We can acknowledge systemic issues in our communities, work to alleviate them, and have an eternal perspective and tempered expectation on our work in a fallen world. May we own what we need to own by conviction of the Holy Spirit, and may we take action as we see fit with wisdom and purpose for the glory of God and his eternal kingdom. Peace only comes through justice, and may we use biblical discernment to catch a vision as a church for what that may look like in our communities.