When a dam breaks, devastation follows.
It was the end of May in 1889, and day after day of extraordinarily heavy rain had been pouring down on western Pennsylvania in the United States. On May 31 the South Fork Dam gave way releasing 20 million tons of water. 14 miles downstream, the town of Johnstown was hit with a wave of water moving 40 miles per hour that measured 35 to 40 feet high. The force of the impact is difficult to describe. Locomotives weighing 170,000 pounds were swept close to a mile away. Flood waters reached as high as 89 feet. Every structure for four square miles in downtown Johnstown was completely destroyed, with debris being washed into the Stone Bridge on the edge of town. It formed a temporary dam at the bridge, which caused a flood surge to roll upstream and re-flood the city from a different direction. Then the debris pile at the Stone Bridge caught fire and burned for three days.
Just over 2200 people lost their lives that day. Bodies were recovered as far away as 350 miles down river in Cincinnati, Ohio. When the flood waters finally receded, the debris pile was 70 feet high and covered 30 acres.
The Old Testament Prophet Amos gives us today’s verse to consider:
LET JUSTICE RUN ON LIKE A RIVER
Amos 5 is a chapter where God is calling people bent on evil to repentance. At one point God appeals to them and says, “Seek good and not evil, so that you may live.”
When utter evil bursts the dam that has been holding it back, the carnage is devastating. Day after day I’m bombarded with images of senseless assassinations from Afghanistan. It weighs heavily upon my heart. Sometimes the latest image or message causes me to just stop everything and cry out to God. My heart breaks for those victims and their families. I cry out to God and pray for grace and wisdom.
And I pray that God will let justice run on like a river.
I trust the justice of God. I confess that, in my heart, I wish He would pour out His justice upon the Taliban and the Haqanni without delay. But I know that He knows better. I’ve met terrorists whose live have been touched by the redeeming love of God, men who have had their lives turned around and now serve God with all their hearts. I know how powerful conversions like that can be and the impact they can have in places I will never be able to touch.
So my prayer becomes this —
God, align my heart more closely with Yours! In my flesh I want your justice to rain down mercilessly upon these men who act so viciously and kill with impunity. Yet You continue to work out Your plan and touch hearts and change lives. Forgive me for wanting justice NOW, when You are still willing to be gracious.
I know that at the proper time there will be justice. As I have been praying, you have shown me that what my heart is actually yearning for is not justice – it is revenge. Forgive me, Lord. Revenge is not mine to take, you know that I cannot hold it without destroying part of myself.
The time will come for justice. Your time, Your justice. It will be righteous, and will have offered the full opportunity for grace and repentance. And that requires time.
LET JUSTICE RUN ON LIKE A RIVER
I’m reminded of how vile and destructive my sin is. When I was destroying the lives of people, You were patient with me. You brought me to the point of finally understanding Your mercy. You changed my heart. How can I appreciate the mercy You showed me and want that mercy denied to others? Help me, God, to wait for Your timing. Remind me that You see the whole picture and I can barely grasp the smallest little bit of it.
For justice to be truly justice – and not revenge – You often allow time to intervene. Give me the grace I need to pray more fervently, trust more deeply. And to know that You will move in the right way and at the right time. Justice will come. Amos’ full verse says, “But let justice run on like a river, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
You love righteousness AND justice. When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. You and You alone know the perfect timing. Your waiting is an act of graciousness. While I wait for Your justice, help me learn to do good, to correct oppression and to plead the widow’s cause.
Your word teaches me that You, O Lord, are a God of justice; and blessed are all those who wait for You.
So while your justice runs on like a river – powerful, unstoppable, capable of massive devastation; let me remember that justice is in Your hand, not mine. The dam of Your patience that is holding back Your justice will break one day, but that day is Yours to determine.
Give me the grace to focus on the things You HAVE placed in my hand and to do them well while I wait. Help me to focus on righteousness being poured forth like an ever-flowing stream.