Aug 5 2009

Shall We Gather at the River

Cascade-Creek-009Most people know that the Bible begins with a picture of a beautiful garden.  The opening chapters of the Book of Genesis remind us that God created a wonderful place marked by trees and rivers.  What many Christians are not as aware of is that a similar picture is painted in the very last chapter of the Bible.  I was reminded of this recently when I was in a service where we sang “Shall We Gather at the River.”

This hymn, penned in 1864, has been sung at countless baptisms.  I guess the imagery of water makes that appropriate but the hymn’s writer, Robert Lowry, was not thinking of a baptismal scene at all.  He was envisioning Christians gathering in heaven at “the beautiful river…that flows by the throne of God.”  The biblical basis for this vision is Revelation 22 where John writes:  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.”

What a beautiful picture John records!  An unpolluted river—the river of life–flows through the heavenly realm and we find there, as in the original garden, “the tree of life.”  I have studied the Book of Revelation enough to know that the language used is typically symbolic in nature.  For that reason I’m not so sure that we can expect to see in heaven literal streets of gold, pearly gates, or even an actual river.  Still, there is for me something both comforting and encouraging about John’s imagery.  We have obviously made a mess of God’s original creation but here is a vision of creation restored, of a place where things are as God intended for them to be.

Sometimes I imagine heaven looking like the picture that appears above (taken at Yosemite National Park).  But regardless of what we shall actually see, I look forward to that day when we shall gather at the river and worship our Creator and God.  In the meantime, I plan to enjoy the rivers and trees we have here and strive to honor the Lord through my work and photography.