The River

“Perfect Peace,” © Lynn Abbott.

© 2015 Lynn Abbott

One beautiful, sunny afternoon at an indoor-outdoor art Galleria, my best friend and I wandered into an artist’s studio. The light filtered through the windows with a warm glow, and the gentleman’s oils sparkled.

I immediately recognized the work of a master painter.

My friend and I spoke in low tones. The studio was evidently artistic hallowed ground.

Or so I thought.

Evidently, the artist himself was eager to chat. Or perhaps, that wine in his coffee cup made him a little more social than usual.

Whatever the case, in a thick accent, he asked me to identify the location of one of his paintings. I hesitated for I did not wish to insult him with an ignorant guess.

Impatient with my lack of immediate response, he swiftly identified it as Monet’s garden.

Then, my gal pal announced, “She’s an artist.” I looked for a place to hide.

“You, a painter?” he said with a look of disbelief. “What you paint?”

“She’s in art galleries,” my friend volunteered, digging my grave.

“You have business card?”

Clearly, he would not be deterred. I nodded and rummaged through my bag.

I handed him a crumpled card; he glanced at my name.

“Humph! Never heard of you.”

He turned the card this way and that, examining the featured art piece, a seascape depicting a large wave crashing against the California coastline.

I suspect that Mr. Eccentric would be delighted by such a discovery.

“Can I be honest with you?” he inquired in crisp staccato.

I nodded reluctantly. He apparently prepared to launch his critique with or without my permission.

“I don’t like this painting. It is too violent. I like peaceful paintings…” he said with a dismissive flourish of his hand.

My friend and I suppressed our giggles until we were out of earshot. I concluded that he was a true eccentric and put the incident out of mind.

Until recently.

Several weeks ago, I recalled the painter when I read Revelation 21:1, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.”

At first, the passage startled me. What was this? No sea? Indeed, I suspect that Mr. Eccentric would be delighted by such a discovery.

I remembered his words, “It is too violent…I like peaceful…”

And I wondered if this might relate somehow to the description in Revelation.

When I pause to ponder, it does seem to me that Scripture describes our relationship with Abba frequently in terms of a river.

David described the walk of Abba’s child in this way, “And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields it fruit in its season, And it leaf does not wither; And whatever he does, he prospers,” (Psalm 1:3).

In pursuit of more river references in Scripture, I eventually landed in the book of Second Kings, and there, I reread Naaman’s story.

You may recall that his faith took root in the river.

The powerful and distinguished army captain of the Syrian army, Naaman appeared to have everything going for him. However, Scripture adds a tragic footnote. Naaman was a leper.

While this would be a terrible burden for anyone to endure, for a military man who relied upon his physical strength and prowess, leprosy would be a devastating illness.

You may recall that Naaman’s faith took root in the river.

But Abba used a faith-filled servant girl to give Naaman’s wife hope: “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then, he would cure him of his leprosy,” (II Kings 5:3).

Soon, Naaman traveled to Israel to find Elisha.

Despite his prominent worldly position, Naaman did not receive an elaborate welcome from the prophet. In fact, Elisha sent a servant to deliver a simple message.

Naaman should wash in the river Jordan, seven times. Seven times. This was no quick in and out dip. God’s number of completion required that Naaman fully commit to Elisha’s treatment.

This, of course, was an unexpected reception. At the very least, Naaman probably hoped to gain an audience with Elisha.

But Elisha sent his servant with these unusual instructions. Not surprisingly the Captain was offended by the seemingly indifferent command.

Didn’t Elisha recognize Naaman’s importance? Wasn’t he, Naaman, positioned to issue commands?

Hadn’t he, Naaman, done mighty works? Shouldn’t he, Naaman, be treated with deference?

He had traveled a distance to find the prophet. And for what? A bath in the Jordan?

Furious, Naaman questioned the prophet’s prescription. There were rivers in Syria. The Syrian Captain could see no point to washing in the Jordan.

Fortunately for Naaman, his servants loved him. With great affection, they spoke, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he says to you, ‘Wash and be clean’?” (II Kings 5:13).

Naaman couldn’t afford to be proud.

When he emerged from the Jordan, “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean,” (II Kings 5:14b).

At face value, it’s an odd account…the story of a Gentile encouraged by a young Israeli to seek out Yahweh’s prophet for healing.

Certainly, the story appears an insignificant sidebar in the overall historical account of Yahweh’s people. Or so it seemed when I first read it.

But upon deeper reading, its importance becomes clear. After all, Scripture contains Abba’s story of love and grace for lost humanity.

That’s right. Naaman represents you and me. In Eden, humanity became infected with spiritual leprosy. We stood unclean before Yahweh.

Even so, God provided Living Water to restore us. But as in Naaman’s case, we cannot wash in just any river.

Our healing comes with humble obedience, our identification with the Promised One. At the center of it all is Christ, our living water, the bread of life.

Unlike those in the days of Noah, we have not been singled out for judgment through a worldwide flood. Nor will we be thrown from the ship and into the sea as was Jonah. Through Abba’s grace, we hold onto the Promise.

Naaman represents you and me.

Like Naaman, we are washed and made new. We have peace with Abba. And when we stand before Him on the other side of the “Jordan,” our transformation will be complete, (Romans 8:16-17).

Revelation 22:1 reveals, “And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

As I read this, it occurred to me that herein lay the key to my recent questions: a river continually provides fresh water, often melting and traveling from the heights.
The ocean, on the other hand, finds preservation in salt. Without special filtration, it is undrinkable.

In addition, its sudden, violent storms place sailors in danger. Indeed, since the fall in Eden, our life journeys have generally required navigation of vast and dangerous seas.

Perhaps, Mr. Eccentric had a point.

Our world’s oceans are a terrible beauty…not unlike our journey through this fallen world.

And the beauty we find here resembles the Living Water. Yes, for the time being, in His grace, Abba preserves the seas and world.

But one day, water as clear as crystal will run through the new heaven and earth, (Revelation 22:1).

From Abba’s throne, from Christ, our Living Water, will flow the River of Life. We will fully know what it is to drink life deeply from the One who is the source of every good gift, (James 1:17).
But there’s more. On those banks, grows the Tree of Life. John writes that its leaves are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2).

And there will be peace. Perfect peace.

You betcha. On that day, for Abba’s children, the healing will finally be complete.

“Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come,” ~II Corinthians 5:17