I have recently reflected a bit on my just concluded vacation and continue to do so. It was a cruise down the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Our ship followed the path of Lewis and Clark from the west side of the Bitterroots on the Snake River all the way to the mouth of the Columbia. We visited numerous sites where the party camped and explored. In the interpretive presentations there was much emphasis on the change that had happened to the rivers in that time – primarily due to the dams on both rivers.
Dams are fascinating things. Most people do not realize it, but they are actually balancing acts. They use some forces of nature to counteract others. I also reflected this week about how we tend to think freedom means a lack of restrictions, but that we are always restricted in some fashion, if nothing else by the laws of physics. Dams are most assuredly restricted by the laws of physics. Yes, man is free to tame those wild rivers, but he must do so within the restraints of physical reality. We cannot stop the rivers cold; we can only alter their course minutely. Dams require meticulous planning and design and operation or else the river will tear down even the best of them. We cannot build dams in any fashion we like out of any material we want, we must build them as the situation dictates. We make a wild river so that we can live with it, but like a “tame” tiger it still has an independent nature.
All this has me thinking about the massive social change of the last decade. I do not need to enumerate, but if we think about it, the upheaval has been incredible. That fact was driven home to me as I returned here to California after vacation, a state where pot has just been legalized, and it seemed like dozens of “dispensaries” had sprung up in the short time I was gone. And bear in mind, pot legalization is just one of the many social changes the last decade has brought on. I could not help but wonder if in all these social changes we are using natural forces to control things, like a dam does, or if we are trying to operate outside the natural forces.
As the apostolic letter to the Hebrews wraps up the author gives the readers a short synopsis of decent behavior trying to conclude with encouragement towards same. This is common in the New Testament epistles, but at the heart of the particular passages in Hebrews lies this:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
With this passage the author is attempting to point out there are limits to change. He is attempting to emphasize that like the laws of physics constrain what we can do when it comes to building dams and changing rivers, so our behavior may change – but only within certain boundaries. We may want things to change, but some things are fundamental and simply do not change.
When a dam fails the results are catastrophic. Dams fail because either we did not fully understand the physical realities involved, for example a storm larger than ever anticipated occurs, or we failed to fully understand the natural forces at play in the specific circumstance. Either way, something we did that was intended to benefit results in far more destruction than was even possible prior.
If our social change proves to be out of a failure to fully understand the natural forces at play the results could be equally, or even more, catastrophic. If nothing else, the pace of change makes me wonder if we have fully considered the potential for such catastrophe or if we have simply charged ahead convinced of our own power and abilities. Only time will tell.
I do know that these thoughts move me to prayer this Sunday morning. I hope you will join me.