But let justice flow like water and righteousness, like an unfailing stream. Amos 5:24
The rain had been coming down all morning when I got the call. It was early October, and we’d already had a wet fall, the ground thoroughly soaked by the time the remnants of a hurricane came through. But we’d been watching the weather all week and knew it was coming. We checked our basement to make sure the sump pumps were in good working order. (One fall they were not and as I sat at my desk writing, I nearly floated away.) We bought water absorbing jams to put in the crack under the door and pulled out a stock of old towels to soak up the water that would seep in regardless. Then we sent the kids off to school under chilly, gray skies, hoping for the best.
The call came shortly after 1:00: “Come get your children. Now.”
People around here talk about the flood of ‘85, how quickly it swept down the hills and flooded the town that sits in the bottom. That’s the problem with being ringed by mountains; all the water from all the springs from all the streams from all the creeks from all the rivers flow down, down, down to the lowest point. On the way down, they gather momentum and gather in the waterways below, overflowing their banks and plow through whatever lies in their path. A muddy, rushing, affusion.
I grab my keys and jacket and head out. I don’t know if my tires are right for this weather, but they’re the tires I have so they’re the tires that will have to do. Heavy drops of rain fall on my windshield and the wipers struggle to keep up. Along the road, ditches and gullies collect runoff and carry it in temporary streams. The road that sits along the river and runs past the grocery store will flood; there’s no doubt of that. I just wonder whether I can get back before it does. But the water is inching closer to the road and by the time I drive the 20 minutes to the next town, it will be covered.
It’s chaos at the school—parents, teachers, and students are all jumbled together, all sharing what they’ve seen and where the water’s high. I stand outside in the rain waiting for my kids and keeping a close eye on the time. Each drop that falls will become part of that torrent I’m trying to outrun. Finally, they emerge, and we head home. But the Parkway is closed with uprooted trees lying across the road. So, I head back through town, navigating the streets as water rushes toward the storm drains. We cross the bridge by the old mill as the river churns angrily beneath. A few detours later, we arrive. We’re safe, and the basement’s still dry.
But by late afternoon, the VFD is rescuing people near Back Creek with high water boats. I see a picture where I know a road should be but now only a river flows; the road sign is just visible above the water line, staking its claim. Finally, in the middle of the night, the river crested at 16.64 feet. And then as quickly as it came, it leaves. The waters recede. The force and flood abate. Like a flash of lightening, it strikes and is gone.
It will take weeks, months, years to understand what just happened.
Large trees are down everywhere, their root systems useless when the earth beneath them moves. Roads, too, are washed away, and pieces of concrete lie in farmer’s fields. I have a friend who had both a low water bridge and a high-water bridge on her property. Today she has none. The hillside behind an elderly woman’s house sits in her backyard just inches from her door. It will take two years to remove it because no one can decide whose dirt it is once it slips past the property line. Does the hill belong to the one who built on the top of it or to the one who built at the bottom?
And just down the road, a pond broke. I don’t know the name of it or whether it even has a name. I do know it sits in a dip in the land and that I drive past it several times a week. A green heron lives there and so do the spring peepers that he eats. It was ringed by cattails and brushes and had a small dock. It was a fixture.
And now it isn’t.
Philosopher-farmer Wendell Berry’s pond ruptured after a similarly wet fall, and he took it as proof of his own hubris; that despite his best intentions to maintain it, he failed and ended up damaging the world around him. “The trouble was the familiar one,” he writes, “too much power, too little knowledge. The fault was mine.” Perhaps he’s right, but all the same, I don’t agree entirely with Berry here. There’s no stopping a flood and that’s exactly the point. The rain comes down on the just and unjust and we’re all swept away by its power. If there’s kind of hubris to cut a pond into the earth, there’s another kind of hubris that doesn’t think the earth will do exactly what she wants with it. Rising waters rearrange the world to their own liking.
Knowing this about floods, I’m not surprised that the Scripture uses floods to picture God’s judgment. You know of Noah’s flood, how God grieved the wickedness that filled the earth and how He sent down 40 days of rain. Perhaps you know, too, how the prophet Isaiah proclaimed the Lord’s judgment would be like “mighty rushing water”—
It will overflow its channels
and spill over all its banks.
It will pour into Judah,
flood over it, and sweep through,
reaching up to the neck,
and its flooded banks
will fill your entire land,
When God’s judgment comes, it is unstoppable. The waters wash over everything, tearing earth from root and home from foundation.
And yet, some survive. Noah is preserved, and the remnant of Israel saved. And I wonder, What’s the difference? Why is one kept and another lost? Why does one house stand and another collapse?
Rain from heaven may fall on both the just and the unjust, but only the just prepare for it. Because just as the Scripture speaks of God’s judgment as a mighty flood, it also speaks of His justice in the same language. To put a finer point on it, God’s judgment is His justice working itself out, setting the world right. So that like a flood, when God’s justice comes rolling down from His holy mountain, it rearranges and reshapes everything in its path.
To the unjust, such justice will feel like destruction because it will eradicate everything they’ve built unjustly. It will sweep away all they’d hoped for and in. But to those who humble themselves, who confess their sins, who align themselves with God’s ways even now; to those who, as Jesus says, “hear his words and act on them,” justice will wash over them. The rain will fall, and the rivers rise, and the winds blow, but the house will stand firm.
When we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we’re praying as Amos did for the Lord of Justice to “summon the water and pour it out over the surface of the earth.” We’re praying for God’s justice to roll down the mountain and flood us. But because His justice also means His judgment, we immediately beg the Father to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who’ve trespassed against us.” We immediately confess our own injustice.
Because those who long for God’s justice know that they will only endure it by His mercy. Those who pray for God’s coming kingdom know that it will be the ruin of theirs. Those who long for earth to be like heaven know that they must be the first to move in that direction. So that with the psalmist, those who long for justice, learn to quickly acknowledge their own sin and wait on the Lord’s forgiveness.
And thus, battened down, we cry out for the flood of God’s justice to come rolling down; we cry out for it to come and reshape and reform our world. And as we cry, we trust that when the waters come, He will be with us as we pass through them. And thus trusting, we find Him to be our hiding place and ark in the storm. Selah.
Excerpted from Hannah Anderson’s forthcoming book Turning of Days: Lessons from Nature, Season, and Spirit (Moody Publishers, February 2021). Used by permission. www.MoodyPublishers.com.
Scripture Used: Genesis 6:11-21; Psalm 29:3-4;32:5-7; 93:3-4; Isaiah 8:6-8;43:1-2; Amos 5:8-9;24; Matthew 7:24-29; 24:36-40; Luke 6:46-49;
Cover image by Rachman Reilli.
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