Deep Like the Rivers

For the last two weeks, we’ve been acknowledging the cold hard truth that sometimes we turn our back on Scripture, failing to pay attention to it, or not letting its message take root and transform us.  I shared with you an example from Luke’s Gospel – how I realized I was habitually skimming over certain verses because on some subconscious level I had classified them as “unimportant.”  I have had several such experiences with Scripture, and even though it is always a little bit embarrassing (shameful would be a better word!), it is also exciting.  I like discovering things I should have noticed before.  It makes me wonder what other shiny new treasures are waiting for me in familiar places!

I’d like to share another experience, even though it will reveal the extent of my bad habit.  Several years ago I was both appalled and delighted to discover that there were a few verses in the creation stories that I had basically overlooked for my entire life.  When studying theology, it doesn’t get any more basic than the two accounts of creation found in Genesis 1-3.  They lay the groundwork for pretty much everything else.  And when teaching theology and Scripture, I have turned back to these stories again and again.  How could I have missed something here, of all places?

Granted, the passage I am referring to is not necessarily fundamental to understanding the creation stories and their meaning.  This is why I had always read these verses without paying any attention to them.  I was always looking to the “juicy” parts like “in his image he created them” (1:27) and “the eyes of both were opened” (3:7).  It seems that when I came to the passage below, my brain said, “Here’s the part about the rivers.  Skip it.” 

But several years ago, when I read this passage carefully (I think I was reading it out loud), I realized what I had been missing.  First of all, the words are beautiful.  They create in your mind an unforgettable image of what we now call the Fertile Crescent – a land of lush vegetation and gorgeous river views.  You can easily picture a pristine land full of precious minerals and rich resources – gold, onyx, and bdellium (a fragrant resin similar to myrrh).  Second, the passage describes a geographical place on earth, communicating to us a simple truth that the rest of Scripture corroborates and develops:  our God is inextricably intertwined with the lives of human beings, in their times and places.  Although he is mighty – he creates worlds simply by speaking! – he is not removed.  Our ancient stories about God don’t begin “long ago and far away.”  They begin with places like “Assyria” and “the Euphrates” and situate their truths in the “mountains of Ararat” (8:4) and “Ur of the Chaldeans” (11:31).  And finally, I love this passage because now that I have rediscovered its worth, it sounds like a poem to me.  It makes me think of what Langston Hughes wrote:  My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

This passage may not mean as much to you as it does to me.  One reason I like it so much is because of my history with it.  But I share this story and these verses with you because I’m sure you understand my experience and may have had similar moments with Scripture.  It is a reminder for me that Scripture will never be fully known and certainly can never be “mastered.”  It always has something new to divulge.  It is a dynamic phenomenon.  You might say it flows like a river.

"A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates" (Gen. 2:10-14).

The mighty Euphrates

The mighty Euphrates