The river between us

The river between us

Seeing everyone through my computer screen is getting old.

I’m really not complaining – it’s far better than just the faceless voice of a phone call – but I long to be in a room with someone.  Sitting across a table.  Or engaging in the extravagance of a handshake.

It’s like a river runs between each of us that can only be spanned by technology.

With my morning study of the book of Isaiah in my head, I drive today to an overlook of the Susquehanna River.  It feels so strange to be in the car, to be driving down a highway.  (Imagine, a month ago, I was virtually living on the highway.  Now I’m living on a virtual highway!  But I’m mixing metaphors, sorry.)

Looking down at its waters, muddied from recent rains, I try to imagine it as a great barrier between people.  To ancient peoples, rivers must have been just that.  Daunting.  Then I wonder what it would feel like to have that barrier removed.

That’s what Isaiah prophesies about in the end of chapter 11:

            And the LORD will utterly destroy
                        the tongue of the Sea of Egypt,
           and will wave his hand over the River
                       with his scorching breath,
           and strike it into seven channels,
                       and he will lead people across in sandals.
           And there will be a highway from Assyria
                       for the remnant that remains of his people,
               as there was for Israel
                      when they came up from the land of Egypt. (vs. 15–16)

This is hearkening back to the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus.  But this time it imagines the drying up of the largest river in the Biblical world, the Euphrates.  It’s so significant, it’s called The River in the Old Testament.  It was a great dividing line between the invading kingdoms of the north and Israel.

My commentary tells me that in this passage, the River represents the “man-made barriers which the exclusivist and separatist tendencies of human sinfulness have erected.” (Motyer). God will “utterly destroy” them – a phrase used for his judgment.

We have filled our world with “man-made barriers” that seem as intractable as a mighty river.  So many things have divided us in recent decades: politics, economics, religion, race.  And now look!  This pandemic has divided us down to the smallest social denominators.  We wanted “them” (however we defined “them”) to leave us alone.  Now we know what alone really means.

But look again at the promise above.  With a wave of his hand, the LORD will evaporate The River.  He will create dry ground to cross.  He will make a highway for his people to come back together.

What an encouragement!  I am convinced that this time of separation is just what God’s people needed.  It is making us hungry for the reality of the Kingdom.  We are longing for real connection – and are willing to sit for hours in front of our screens to get just a taste of it.

Keep your sandals ready.  God is going to remove this river of separation in time.  And until then, he is framing up our need for true fellowship.

Heavenly Father, we submit to whatever you would want to change in us during this time of social distancing.  Forgive our shallow relationships and lukewarm loves.  Use this time of trial to unite us in the purpose of your name, your kingdom and will.

Reader:  Tell me about a surprising connection you’ve made in the last couple of weeks.

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.