I have had quite a bit of experience with the power of rivers. When I was young — about 6 or 8 — I lived in a small town called Lyle, Washington, on the banks of the Columbia River. This was before all the dams controlled the flow of current. People were not supposed to swim in the river, but teenagers often dove from the low cliffs into the water. One day, a friend of my older brother dove into the river on a day when the tide along the banks was particularly strong. He was swept below an underwater ledge and held there by the current until he drowned. That image of our inability to fight the river’s power has stuck with me.
I wasn’t much older than that when my family stayed with my cousin’s family out in the country. They had a pretty little creek that flowed through their property. But one day a series of storms in the hills caused the little creek to become a raging torrent. I spent the night trying to sleep beside my cousin, at the same time worrying that the river would wash us away.
My next experience was when I was about 12 years old and I lived in the south part of Seattle, Washington. The Duwamish River flooded, as it often did, but this time the water was so deep it covered a huge part of the floodplain, rising so high as to cover the grandstand of the Longacre’s Race Track up to the second tier of seats. I’d never seen anything so destructive before.
Then, when I was about 15 years old, I was a ham radio operator in Seattle. The Columbia River flooded an area east of Portland, Oregon, called Vanport. I spent two days and nights receiving messages and sending requests for information to the hams in the Portland area, concerning the status of those affected by the flood. There were no cell phones in those days, and the regular phones were often overburdened in an emergency. It was a pretty heavy load for a 15-year-old kid to have to call people and tell them, “we’re okay, but we lost everything,” or “we lost our pets, but we’re okay, and our home was spared.” This was before the water of the Columbia was controlled by its many dams. Many dams were originally installed on rivers to help with flood control.
The last one I’ll mention was one I saw when I lived I Scottsdale, Arizona. The Salt River, which was usually dry, flooded due to severe storms miles away in the mountains. The main road between Scottsdale and Tempe was washed out, and the river dug a ditch six feet deep all along the river bed in only a few hours. That’s real power.
So when I read about rivers in the Bible, and especially those concerning God’s power which makes the power of the mighty rivers seem puny, I am awestruck. Of course, God made the rivers, but I had never thought about the power demonstrated by them before. And the river of God’s love is the most powerful force in the universe. It overcomes all other powers.
Beatrice Smith delivers copies of The Upper Room daily devotional guide to a retirement home in Cape Town, South Africa. "Residents are delighted to receive the magazine," she says of a recent visit. Learn more about the international editions of The Upper Room here.