Justice will roll! (@crimperman)

Whenever somebody mentions the book of Amos many people’s thoughts will turn to a single word: justice. Arguably the most well-known verse in the writings of Amos is verse 24 of chapter 5:

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! Amos 5:24 NIV

Justice is a word we hear a lot. There are many (very worthy) campaigns which start with the words “Justice for…” and it is often found (as you’d expect) outside a courtroom where the “winner” (or their lawyer) will announce that “Justice has been done.” The problem is that all too often justice becomes just a byword for retribution, justification or revenge which, when you think about it, are perfectly good words in their own right and don’t really require a substitute.

Photo of Judge Dredd

Our view of justice can be altered by popular culture. Photo by Mooshu on Flickr CC:By-SA

Popular culture has further redefined and muddied justice. From vigilantes to fascist lawman (yes I am a Judge Dredd fan but sometimes we forget that those storylines are supposed to be ironic) we are given a message that justice is about winners and losers. So justice also becomes an extension of karma and of ends justifying the means (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Yet justice is in perhaps its broadest definition the attainment of that which is just which is, in this case, synonymous with fair and this is where we run into issues with the way justice is described in Amos. If we’re honest I think many of us have a warped sense of fairness. Even as children we develop a sense that fair and justice is something that only applies when it has a positive effect on us (or at the least a negative effect on the opposition). Witness how sports fans will protest an “unfair” decision but rarely if their team benefits from one.

Amos as a book contains a lot of judgmental rhetoric and even though it ends, as do many such prophecies, with a promise of restoration it is difficult to align a cosy, comfortable, easy view of God with words like these:

“I will crush you as a cart crushes when loaded with grain. The swift will not escape, the strong will not muster their strength, and the warrior will not save his life.” Amos 2:13-14 NIV

If nothing else the book of Amos tells us how seriously the Lord takes the issue of justice and of the way we, his followers, use our freedom. We would do well to contextualise that oft-quoted verse 24 of chapter 5. The Lord is in full flow on the subject of religious feasts and offerings saying “Away with them!… I will not listen..” and yet in the middle of this he says “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”  Can there be any doubt that the Lord values justice and righteousness above religiousness?

We should perhaps remember this when we justify to ourselves why we can/will not support or cry out about those who suffer the raw end of injustice. We live in an unfair world. We can try to justify this as much as we like but in our world there is enough of pretty much everything to go around and yet there are the haves and have nots, the masters and the slaves, those who somehow always get to stand outside the courtroom and those who are rarely even represented.

That is most definitely not justice.

About Ryan Cartwright

Ryan Cartwright is a web developer, cartoonist and author who has been blogging since before the term was invented. A Father of two and youthworker based in Essex, he has a passion for freedom and a weakness for Haribo. You can find him at Crimperman.org and @crimperman. His books are available through Crimperbooks.