One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Revelation of John. I find such beauty, hope, and comfort within its pages and I never pass up an opportunity to preach from it. There is one passage in particular that offers me hope and this morning, I thought about it in a new way:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5
We all know this is a glimpse of eternity but there is an interesting verse that will explain my blog title. The river is flowing from the throne of God out into the city. It is as if God cannot be contained by the throne. What a concept! It isn’t just in Revelation that we find this river flowing out into the world:
The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side. As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. People will fish along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 1Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” -Ezekiel 47:1-12 (NIV)
In this passage, God is showing Ezekiel the new Temple in Jerusalem but there is a river that starts within its walls and flows out growing larger and larger and this river has no source. It is like God cannot be contained within the Temple. Of course, when Jesus died and was raised from the dead, God was no longer confined to the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
The more I think about this passage, the more I am in awe. God truly is everywhere but I have a different sense of God at times. I am always aware of God’s presence but there are times when I am more acutely aware of God than others. In some of those cases, I am deep in prayer or in church but other times, I am doing something, hiking, walking and God’s presence overwhelms me. I know God is everywhere but sometimes I feel God more than anywhere else.
So why do we try to limit God to certain places or times? Why do we try to limit God but using names that are gender-exclusive? Why do we try to limit God to act in certain ways? Our minds cannot grasp God and yet within the pages of the Bible we have two descriptions of God flowing out into the world like a raging river. I like that image. Water is powerful and the source of life (it has also been used to destroy) and was present in the beginning of creation. If you stand near a raging river, you can sense its power yet if you stand by a trickling stream, you can also sense a presence. God cannot be contained by anything we do and we should praise and worship a God that defies our efforts to define God. As the psalmist writes:
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” -Psalm 46:10 (NIV)
I would add the phrase “and stop trying to limit me”. God is here now. God is always here. God cannot be contained. Praise God.