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The River That Heals

The River That Heals

AUGUST 5, 2021

/ Articles / The River That Heals

Psalm 46 is an ancient poem written by someone who is shaking hands with disaster.

Trouble surrounds him at every turn. Consider these opening verses:

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble at its swelling.                                    Selah

Psalm 46:1-3

The different types of suffering and trouble we encounter in this life are meant to be swallowed up in the sheer enormity of these words that describe mountains being shaken by storms and tsunamis while the earth free falls out of orbit.

The section ends with a selah which is the Psalms equivalent to a modern day mic drop. Basically, we’re told of the world’s worst calamities all happening at once, and then asked to sit on it — to think about the prospect of the ground floor dropping out from under you. All the sources of stability being shaken by an earthquake then swallowed up into non-existence. Selah. Mic drop. 

There is a River

When we face trouble, real trouble, where do we turn? How will things get better? Perhaps you see yourself as a “doer” and when trouble arises the stress causes you to zero in on a solution. Or maybe you fall on the other end of the spectrum and hard circumstances make you want to take a nap and bank on time’s proverbial ability to heal all wounds.

This psalm takes a different approach.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, 

the holy place where the Most High dwells. 

God is within her, she will not fall; 

God will help her at break of day. 

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; 

he lifts his voice, the earth melts. 

Psalm 46:4-7

Our attention is moved from the chaotic, roaring waters representing the peak of our problems to a river that causes gladness. 

A useful tool for understanding the message of the Bible is to trace a theme throughout the story and see how it develops. Rivers, like mountains, are all over the story God has been telling since the opening chapters:

  • The beginning of the book describes a river that waters the garden of Eden (Gen 2:10).
  • A river turns into blood in the height of God’s physical rescue plan for his people from the awful, oppressive rule of the Egyptians (Exodus 7).
  • Prophets long for a day when a fountain (or river) will open up that cleanses us of all the trouble we encounter because of our sin and impurity (Zech 13:1).

We can see a line of best fit starting to take shape explaining how a river can make people glad, but the outline is still far from clear and it lacks color. We are still left wondering how any of this can relate to the real problems we experience on a daily basis. 

The River and the Tree

Fortunately for us, the Bible is like a math textbook in that the answers are in the back of the book. In other words, or by way of another analogy, the portions of the Old Testament that are hard to see through like frost on a windshield are cleared up when doused with the windshield wiper fluid of the New Testament. 

The end of the story speaks of a river that heals and undoes the root of all our problems. Don’t miss this:

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

Revelation 22:1-3

The imagery of a river is directly connected to the tree of life that undoes the curse and heals the nations. The same word for tree here is earlier used to tell of Christ’s curse-absorbing-death on the cross (tree) in Galatians 3. His death is what makes the cross the tree of life for us.

In love, God shed his own blood in your place. This is the gospel, the good news of the river that heals, undoes sin and death, and thwarts the worst of all problems. Christ’s blood is the river that brings gladness now and forever. History testifies to the beauty and power of this story in song: “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

The gospel is a river of good news:

  • Like the river that waters the garden of Eden, the death of Jesus nourishes our ability to care about and invest in people who are different from us. He is the source of any good we can contribute in the grand scheme of eternity. 
  • The river turning into blood in Exodus points to God’s judgment and rescue plan for his people from the ultimate slave-driver of sin and death. Rather than demanding our blood for our sins, he lays down his own life as the once and for all, perfect sacrifice.  
  • The longed for fountain that would heal the cause of our problems has been opened up in the death-destroying act of God dying for his enemies. The sting of death has been and is being replaced by the song of resurrection hope.  

Our stone hearts are hardened by years of thinking we’re better than others based on what we do. But God is lifting his voice today, with the earth-melting mystery of the gospel. This mystery was hidden when Psalm 46 was written but it has now been disclosed as Christ in you – the hope of glory

Trouble is meant to wake us up to the the world around us and the God who is there so that we could learn to repeat the prayer of St Augustine, the 4th century North African bishop of Hippo: 

Diffídam mihi, fidam in te 

“Let me distrust myself, and put my trust in you.” 

Trust Jesus because he makes our problems his priority. When our troubles are many and it seems like the earth is shaking around us, look to him, redirecting our burdens unto his own shoulders. In Psalm 46 like fashion, he caused the mountains to tremble when he threw himself into the heart of the sea on your behalf. Christ is your solid rock, the only unshakable foundation on which to build your life. 

Be still and know that Jesus is God. 

Davis Johnson

Davis Johnson

Davis is the Associate Pastor of Outreach & Development at Hope Community Church in Downtown Minneapolis.

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