Life is like a __________. A what?
Like a box of chocolates because you never know what you get? Like a vacuum cleaner because sometimes it sucks? Like an endless storm because it’s always raining on your parade? Like a vacation because, well… oh, who ever says that?
One apt illustration for our personal ventures this side of heaven is that life is like going down a river. This river is somewhat like the stream of life on which we navigate, float, swim, or ride. Our personal life is like sitting in a kayak, or sharing a riverboat, or bobbing up and down with a little plastic inner tube.
Let’s think of life as a river that God has made. The river represents God’s plan of history. At some point before human history the only sovereign Lord of the universe made a plan. God can do this because he has absolute power, complete control (Ex. 3:20; 6:6; 3:14; Isa. 41:4) and total authority (Ex. 3; 20; Lev. 18-19; Psa. 33:6; Jn. 1:1ff). This plan has a beginning and an end. The width, depth, the speed of the current, the volume of water, and all the natural features along and in its course are installed by God. From beginning to end, God works the river’s design according to his own pleasure and for his own glory (Psa. 33:6,10-11; Isa. 46:10; Heb. 6:13-18; Heb. 11:3).
So the river represents God’s plan. In prehistory, God ordained how the river’s course would run (Rom. 9:22-23; Eph. 1:4, 11). The river flows through history and even carries history to a predetermined destiny or goal. Because God is good, fair, and loving we are assured that the destiny to which this river leads is grand and very good (Gen. 1:31; Psa. 73; 84:11; Mk. 10:18; Lk. 18:19; Phil 2:13; 1 Tim. 4:4).
Not long after man (male and female human) was created he rebelled against God and God’s good plan (Gen. 3; Eccles. 7:29; Rom. 5:12-19). You might say he wanted a pool when God designed a river. This rebellion by man caused an upheaval in and around the river. Instead of a beautiful, smooth flowing river it is now seemingly unpredictable. Sometimes beautiful, other times ugly. Sometimes clear and smooth, other times muddy and rough. However, since God is so great and powerful he is in charge of everything that happens. He is a providential God who does his good works through the river of life. His providence is universal (Eph. 1:1; Rom. 11:36; Psa. 115:3). He governs and preserves all creation, all creatures, and their actions (Heb. 1:3; Psa. 103:19; Matt. 10:29). God even governs life through natural events (Psa. 29: Isa. 44:27). He can do so because he is set apart from everything in the universe (we call this transcendence), while he also engages and inserts himself into his universe (we call this immanence). He is all-powerful (omnipotent) and all-knowing (omniscient and wise) (Psa. 1145:17; Isa. 28:29). Even though at times the river seems serene and restful, then wild and unruly, peaceful and then unpredictable God still has total control of it (Psa. 8:3-8; 146:6; Neh. 9:6; John 1:3; Acts 14:15; 17:24; Col. 1:16). He is indeed in control of all things in all time according to his Word and power (Eph. 1:11; Heb. 1:3; Psa. 147:15; 148:5).
The sin of mankind could not disrupt the mighty and good plan of God. He will still bring it to its good and wonderful destiny. This is because God himself is wonderful. He is love, wise, holy, just, true and good (Jn. 4:24; Job. 11:7; Psa. 90:2; Jas. 1:17; Ex. 3:14; Psa. 147:5; Rev. 4:8; 15:4; Ex. 34:6-7; etc.). We must never forget this. In fact we must always bring this to mind as we ride the river’s calm current or its rough rapids.
We must understand too, that God is not merely some unknowable entity beyond the universe. Though he is not part of his creation the Lord is still present and intimately involved in it (Gen. 45:5; Psa. 29:3ff). He is present at every point and turn, and in the ups and downs of the river (Ex. 6:8; Isa. 26:4-8; Mal. 3:6; Hos. 12:4; Dt. 32:9; Psa. 135:4). God is not an absentee river maker and river captain. He is also present with and in our affairs and lives as we travel along the river (Ex. 3:12-14). For those who have placed faith in the Son of God, life on the river takes a whole different meaning. We cannot even begin to imagine the wonders and beauties and goodness that lay ahead for those who trust in God through Christ (1 Cor. 2:9).
God providentially rules over people’s hearts (Pro. 16:9; 21:1; Isa. 44:28; Psa. 33:15ff; Jas. 4:13-17). We should take comfort in this because the ride of life sometimes becomes torturous especially if we happen to share a craft with wicked people. God is even in control of evil hearts because, as we said, he intends to bring everything along and in the river toward a good end. It is very curious but also reassuring that God often overrules evil men to accomplish good things (Gen. 50:20; Judges 9:24; 1 Kgs. 12:15; Psa. 2; 7, 12-13; 11:6; Isa. 6:9f; Dt. 29:4; Rev. 17:17). God even controls the river in such a way as to lead people to a saving faith in Jesus Christ (Mic. 4:7; Isa. 1:9; Acts 16:14; Jn. 3; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 2:8-10).
The river is like life ordained and overseen by a good and perfect God. The banks of the river are the limits that define it. The banks of the river are God’s revealed will. His will is a very real and personal truth that addresses life’s issues, problems and questions. As Dr. R. Stuart points out, it is crucial for us to understand the nature and character of God to get a proper perspective of our lives. It is crucial to understand God’s involvement in our lives, as these essential truths about him are river-bottom relevant to us. Those truths are (a) God is Lord and therefore sovereign in good and bad circumstances, (b) God is now working and will accomplish his perfect plan, (c) that plan is good and complete, lacking in nothing because it is based on his love for us, and finally (d) God’s will for us is absolutely the best since he is re-shaping us into the good image of his Son Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).
Have you ever gone on a river cruise? Tried river rafting? How about canoeing up a river? With or without a paddle? Okay, what about sitting on a huge inner tube an gently floating down the river? Each offers a different experience. Each experience contributes to your life in some way. The more dramatic the experience the deeper the influence and the impact. Life does that, but it is God who inserts us into various experiences in order to shape us, not the river, to become stronger, fitter, wiser and better.
If we have a weak understanding of God and his work we will have a terrible time trying to express a faith-rest in God. We will learn to hate the river, maybe even learn to hate water? It would a great challenge to trust that God IS in control of my circumstances and my life even though, like a swift and violent river, my life seems out of control if I do not have all four of these critical truths under my life vest.
At a given point of time and space, with perfectly good wisdom God placed you and me in life’s river (Psa. 139:16; Gal. 1:15,16). He could have placed you in the river 5739 years ago or 201 years from now. But you are in the river of life just when and where God put you. That should give you comfort, because people are not subject to chance, fate or unknown force. We are not out of our element or in the wrong environment of history. We are just where God placed us to ride the current for as long as God determines. Nothing is by accident, and the life we have is not a mistake.
Life is like a river. God knows exactly how to bring you along in that river. Sometimes he puts you in a big, black tube and allows you to enjoy a smooth flowing, cool bob on a hot summer day. Perhaps the worst thing to happen would be to get those red, burn marks from the constant rowing of your arms? Other moments in your life are like the enjoyment of a delicious supper on deck of a modern cruise ship or on an old, restored riverboat? Still, another episode in your life you might find yourself in a row boat with a couple friends without that paddle. Or perhaps you’ve fallen overboard and are desperately trying to keep from drowning? So, where are you at right now in the river of life?
Let’s talk about that in the next post.