August 16, 2006

Like a River

Oh, that you had kept my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river. . . .” (Isa. 48:18).*
2006 1523 page31 capate in the afternoon one day, on my first visit to Paris I stood leaning over the rail of one of the many bridges that span the river, La Seine, which flows through the heart of the city. The sun was setting. A pleasure boat, filled with tourists, made its way slowly down the river. On a bench along the riverside far below me sat a lone couple, lazily watching the historic stream idle by. With streets in that section of the city becoming more and more deserted, I just stood there drinking in the solitude. It was a peaceful, peaceful feeling.
What a contrast, I thought, between the moment and the violent history of France played out upon the waters of the Seine. For that very stream, moving peacefully through the French metropolis on its way to the English Channel, had witnessed some of the deadliest plottings and political intrigues ever to flow from human breast; and had stood between some of the most hostile factions ever to rise in battle. The passions, the intrigues, with their instigators and victims, have long since gone, but the peaceful river continues its flow, undaunted, to the sea.
Could the ancient prophet have had something like that in mind when he wrote the words of our text? Perhaps the deepest yearning of the human heart is the yearning for peace.
2006 1523 page31Is anything bothering you right now—robbing you of precious sleep? Are you apprehensive about the future—concerned about what it might hold for you? Do you sometimes wake up suddenly, haunted by the fear that something sinister, something ominous, something drastic is about to happen to you?
Every day we rub shoulders with people burdened down with every kind of anxiety. And we can probably all admit that, too often, some of those same fears bedevil us. In many industrialized societies today it’s become chic to retain the permanent services of a psychiatrist. But the implied promise of the Isaiah passage above is that those who hearken to God’s commandments would experience “peace . . . like a river.”
What does this mean? Tragedies and calamities come equally to all people. And my keeping of the Ten Commandments has no direct bearing on my ability to cope with any particular crisis. On the contrary, it can even add an additional layer of worry, as I question why such a thing should be happening to righteous me!
I think we get a better grasp of the text when we understand “commandment” in a broader sense—as including all the counsels of God, especially those we can violate and yet remain in good and regular standing in any Christian communion. Like that in Isaiah 30:15: “This is what the Sovereign Lord . . . says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.’” Those last seven words indicate that however indirectly phrased, the words of verse 15 constitute a divine call to repentance and trust. Isaiah 26:3, 4 provide another example: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.”
To return to God in repentance, to spend time before Him in quiet confidence, to put our trust in Him completely—these are divine injunctions too; and they permeate the whole of Scripture, including the opening text of these reflections.
So in the words of the old song:
            “How long has it been, since you talked to the Lord,
            And told Him your heart’s hidden secrets?
            How long since you prayed, how long since you stayed,
            On your knees ’til the light shone through?
            How long has it been since your mind felt at ease,
            How long since your heart knew no burden?
            Can you call Him your friend,
            How long has it been, since you knew that He cared for you?”†
Ours is the privilege to experience the peace that only God can give—peace like a river. However wild the tempest, however black the night, however deep the crisis.

* Author's rendition
† "How Long Has It Been," Mosie Lister, copyright 1956, renewed 1984, Mosie Lister Songs.  Used by permission.

Roy Adams is an associate editor of Adventist Review.