“Let justice roll down like mighty waters…an ever-flowing stream.” – Amos 5:24
What is it about people and water? It draws us in, gives us life and its rushing, falling, crashing rocks us to sleep. Sometimes it’s overwhelming power takes our breath away. Occasionally it kills us. But always, no matter how dangerous is it, we return to the water. Human civilization came dripping out of the water, the fertile crescent, the convergence of three rivers giving birth to everything we know.
Last summer our family traveled to Lake Michigan for vacation, staying in a sleepy lakeside town with a wide expanse of beach along the eastern shore of the lake. Driving back into Indiana to the Dunes National Lakeshore, we found a semi-hidden quiet beach and settled in to enjoy the late afternoon sun. With only a handful of other people at this beach, the sound of the water – lap, lap, lap – the soft waves of one of the largest lakes in the world crashing against rocks of every color that have been on this earth longer than us – I felt in a deep sense, that I had arrived at my origin.
My six year old daughter, pigtail braids in her curly hair was sitting next to me at the edge of the water with her tan legs, my pale ones, stretched out side by side. We lifted the smooth, cool stones in our hands and let them run through our fingers, pretending they were rubies or perhaps the pearl of great price, before letting them tumble into the bed of stones, the result of a hundred million tides and storms.
The image of water is invoked frequently in writing, film, and art. Despite its constantly repeating rhythms, it remains endlessly fascinating. In sacred Scripture, the prophet Amos speaks God’s words, telling the people that in God’s Kingdom, “justice will roll down like mighty waters.” Those words draw a picture in my mind of crashing, wild waves washing upon all standing in their wake. The waters of God’s justice are unrelenting, unyielding, not sweet or interested in your excuses. The waters of God’s justice will wash away without pity all that is unjust, all who oppress, everyone who uses God’s name to bow low those who should stand tall.
The justice of God will wash away every title and earthly power, leaving breathless and shaking all who have used their authority, their power, their title, as a cover for abuse and inflicting pain. The justice of God will wash over those unjustly brought low, held down, and silenced by shame. It will be a cleansing bath, a wash of peace, a sweet restoring rain. For those reveling in the sick pleasure of oppression – it will be a washing away, the severe mercy of our severely merciful God. It will leave none standing in its wake.
I think about the rolling water of God’s justice so often these days, watching story after story break of powerful men using their privilege, power, and title to belittle, intimidate, shame, and inflict deep wounds on women. The stories crash again and again, the waves against the rocks of our deeply broken culture. Where powerful men are, powerless women are abused. This is not new. We heard the stories whispered in bathrooms, locker rooms, and back hallways. We’ve warned each other, shared with each other in hushed and wide-eyed shock realizing in our isolation just how not alone we are.
I think about my daughters, and my son, and wonder about the world they will grow into and shape. Will my son learn to prey, believing he is entitled to the life, the heart, the flesh, the work of women for no other reason than he is male? Will my girls shrink to make themselves small in a world that has no room for women standing tall? Will they give things they don’t understand to appease men who are wolves in sheep’s clothing? I weep, and the water of my salty tears in a cleansing too.
Now though, is a moment. Our culture is a thin place where for once, women are being heard and many are finally being believed. The powerful who used their names and titles to take, and take, and ruin are being held accountable. It feels like something is happening. These waves of women’s voices feel like the water of God’s justice washing over us. May these stories never cease, not until every woman who has a story has told it and been believed. May the waters of God’s justice wash away every single institution, structure, and culture that fostered this and watched its silent festering.
Let the mighty waters roll. Let none be able to stand when they are finished.