Shall We Gather at the River?

May 30, 2015 2:42 pm

When people learn I moved to Franklin-Nashville from Austin, Texas they’re often eager to discuss the affinities between that community and our own – our unique music scenes, the brilliant entrepreneurs, the world-class academics, the political centers, hipster heavens, and their desirability as a home for millennials. The list could go on. This past week we added one more notable aspect of life we share together – the experience of devastating floods.

It was shocking for me to see the footage from North Lamar in Austin where the Shoal Creek burst its banks and turned the street into a waterway. It was simply horrifying to see the devastation in San Marcos and Wimberley where the Blanco River suddenly changed from a gentle stream where rafters can enjoy a sunny Saturday into a monster consuming homes and lives. The people of Williamson & Davidson counties know the feeling. Whether dealing with the Tennessee, Cumberland, or the Harpeth, greater Nashville area residents understand the pain of usually beautiful rivers run amok.

All week the terrible scenes coming out of Houston and Austin and around south Texas reminded me of the necessity of banks for the preservation of beauty and life. I don’t mean the kind of banks offering financial services, but the kind that provide the boundaries for the water, the places we sit on or launch from to enjoy the rivers as they pass nearby. Banks are boundaries that sustain life and offer joy; a river violating its banks is called a flood, and brings devastation. Banks aren’t a problem, but the lack of them certainly will be. When banks are broken, something delightful becomes something destructive.

For the most part these days, people believe they’re smarter than God. They feel able to look at the banks he’s established for the rivers of our lives, the boundaries of our relationships and attitudes and conduct, and imagine that these can be ignored without any loss being sustained. Its a deception as old as the race of course. We think we can take the rivers of sex, talent, finances, and ethics and allow them to break the established banks of their life-giving flow without causing any harm to ourselves or our neighbors. Its simply not true.

The opposite danger of moralistic legalism is just as ugly, announcing that rafting on the rivers is not allowed because the water is dangerous. That’s just as foolish, and we reject that narrowness as well: disuse can be another form of abuse.

Lets get real though: the biggest danger we face today isn’t exactly a fearful withdrawal from beautiful gifts. No, our greatest danger is the manipulation of those gifts in the name of our own selfish demands, the exploitation of the beautiful in the service of pleasure and power. We take our legitimate loves and turn them inward; it isn’t that we loved the wrong things, but that we loved them too deeply and in place of the one love that makes all other loves life-giving. The banks have been broken and the damage to our souls and families and societies is real.

The Gospel addresses and conquers both kinds of idols. The greatness of what God has done in Christ delivers us from the self-salvation projects we erect in the name of moralism, projects we can’t sustain and which only further expose our hypocritical folly. It also delivers us from the shame and sorrow our out of control passions have brought about. The only hope for authentic new creation is in the Creator, who offers himself for us and to us in life-transforming grace through Christ.

It will take a long time to repair what’s been lost. But the work of digging out the mud and debris and rebuilding what’s fallen can’t begin until we at least come down to the river and acknowledge the goodness of the banks. If we won’t, the floodwaters may just keep rising. We are called to worship one and love all, and it’s time to recover that vision for the flourishing of our culture.

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