(I wrote the first version of this late Sunday night and posted it. When I read it the next morning it sounded flat to me and I had more ideas I wanted to incorporate into it. Your comments and critiques are welcome. Tell me which version you prefer.)
Way back in 1948, when I was but a young lad of six, one of the most popular songs on radio was Cool Water written by Bob Nolan and sung by The Sons of the Pioneers. It was the story of a man and his mule named Dan who were trekking across the desert in search of water. A voice calls with a promise of water just ahead of them and they see it, but something about it makes the man warn:
“Keep a movin’ Dan, don’t you listen to him Dan, he’s a devil not a man
and he spreads the burnin’ sand with water.”
Then the man glimpses something far in the distance and says:
“Dan can’t you see that big green tree where the waters runnin’ free
and it’s waiting there for me and you.”
Most listeners of that time will have recognized the song as an allegory, referring to the River of Life flowing from the throne of God seen by Ezekiel and John in their visions. It is the living water that Jesus promised to the woman at the well that would forever satisfy her thirst. In another place, Jesus promises that this living water will flow from believers to bring refreshment to thirsty souls.
“There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God,” (Psalm 46:4). Why is it then that so many who name the name of Jesus seem still to be unsatisfied and joyless? Are they mistaking a mirage for the real thing? It is possible to have a form of godliness that looks real but does not satisfy the soul.
Even more insidious is the stream of water poisoned with Wormwood that flows through the desert of this world (Revelation 8:10,11). Wormwood, or artemisia absinthium, is a plant with aromatic leaves that can be used to produce a bitter-tasting alcoholic beverage called absinthe. Those who drink it claim that absinthe produces a clear-headed intoxication that opens the mind.
I wonder if this is what the Bible is warning us about. When we drink of the bitter waters containing wormwood, we experience a condition where we feel that now we are seeing things more clearly than we ever have before. The weaknesses and faults of fellow believers are so evident that we cannot understand why others do not see them. Meanwhile, our own faults and weaknesses disappear from our view. Drinking from the streams containing Wormwood undermines our faith in the Providence of God, poisons relationships and will eventually lead to death.
There is a warning in Ezekiel’s vision of the River of Life that should frighten us if we are among those Christians who see so clearly the faults of others: “But the miry places thereof and the marishes thereof shall not be healed; they shall be given to salt” (Ezekiel 47:11). Right here, in the shallows and marshes close beside the life-giving stream, there is great danger. The water here cannot quench our thirst or heal our infirmities; yet so many seem to enter only this far into the water and scorn those who go deeper.
If we have a craving for bitter-tasting water because it gives us an illumination that exalts us above our brethren, we must stop drinking from this source. It is wormwood, it will do no good thing for us, our families or our congregations. We need to find the source of living water and drink deeply from its refreshing and healing stream. That will restore our faith, our vision, our love for Christian brothers and sisters, and for all mankind.