We sat on a beach today in Puerto Progreso Mexico (see above, taken with my iPhone (no filter)). It was beautiful, but I still don’t understand the appeal of the ocean, other than to look at it and wonder at how blue it is. What’s the point in wading into the water? And what do you do in the water once you’re in there? Play? These were the annoying questions I was asking my wife while she was trying to enjoy being in the water with me. And she says she loves me.
I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with bodies of water such as the ocean since I was 3, due to an unfortunately timed wave which knocked me over while walking along the beach in California. Ever since then I’ve really had no idea how to interact with water, especially collected in any sort of pool/lake/river/ocean. I think the ocean in particular is intimidating. It’s got so much potential for controlling you more than you have control over it. I don’t like not being in control.
I’m reading a book by a guy named Shane Hipps called “Selling Water by The River.” I don’t have any previous knowledge of or experience with Shane, so I am interacting with his words trying also to discover where he is coming from and what his point is in writing this book. He says:
“The disconcerting part about the life and teachings of Jesus is that he repeatedly pushed, subverted, and overturned the established beliefs and boundaries of religion. Jesus wasn’t opposed to the riverbanks (religions and their boundaries); he just knew that eventually all rivers merge with the ocean. And no banks can contain the ocean. Jesus consistently stepped over the riverbanks to show us how to splash in the river. He knew the river would quench our thirst, and that it takes us somewhere incredible. Eventually the river runs and merges with the expansive and untamable ocean – the experience of life that resides beyond the limits of doctrines, boundaries, and fear”
(Selling Water by The River, p. 32-33 (parentheses mine)).
He says later:
“Jesus was always pushing people beyond the banks and into the river. he knew these methods would get people wet and they might even get upset. But he also knew the current would take them directly into the ocean of God’s heart, a vast expanse where no boundary can contain or tame the inexhaustible joy and love found there” (Ibid, p. 36-37).
Shane’s point here is not as clear as the ocean in Puerto Progresso. The main audience of the book is clearly Christians who are tired of the small narrative they have been given, tired of the lenses they’ve been taught to read/see God through. In this context, the boundaries metaphor makes some sense: Christianity leads to God, but God is not only found in Christianity, or rather, God is not bound by the Christian religion.
Shane isn’t saying, I don’t think, that all religions flow into God, despite how the above quotations read. Here is his thesis statement from the first chapter, “As I intend to show in the pages that follow, Jesus tells us the river is already flowing within us right now. According to Jesus, nothing stands between it and us. The most overlooked aspect of the Good News is that we already have what we are looking for, and Jesus came to show us how to experience it” (Ibid, p. 7).
I do think God is like the ocean. I think that he is vast and unpredictable and can be intimidating. And, I do think that the river of Life is already flowing in us, and that those rivers of Life in all of us do eventually lead into the shalom and life of God.
But is this life only flowing in Christians? Did Jesus bring life for all the world (John 3:17) or for many people in the world (Matthew 20:28)? Did his death and resurrection pay the penalty for all people’s sins or not? Does he call all people, no matter their religion, into a saving knowledge of him, or not? Does salvation have as much to do with where and to whom we were born as it does what we believe Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection?
I’m afraid these questions miss the point, but I can’t get past them either. As I look at all of these people on this boat, and all of the people I will encounter in Cozumel tomorrow, I wonder what God is up to, what his life is calling us to, and how to avoid being a barrier for others to enter that life in the river that leads to God.