February 2, 1953
Three generations of unsuspecting people drank from it, swam in it, gave it to their animals and children, sprayed it on their plants, and said it always tasted good, but now are being told the Techa River is the most polluted river in the world.
Over 40 years ago, atomic waste was jettisoned into this body of water in Russia. For the past several years, residents downstream have experienced cancer, anaemia, stillborn babies, paralysis and numerous other problems related to continual exposure to radiation. Apparently the cause of these and other horrors is an ignorant and tragic mistake made years ago by a few nuclear scientists.
One article about the Techa includes “river of death” in its title. But a river is not supposed to bring death. It is no wonder the survivors, who drank and used its water without realizing there was anything wrong with it, feel betrayed and devastated. My own outrage is difficult to describe. This is so sad particularly because there is nothing to be done. Once exposed, radiation damage to the human system is irreversible.
It is bad enough when we foolishly do things that are obviously harmful and others get hurt in the process, but these people were completely unaware of their danger. We might well ask how could God allow this? It seems these people didn’t have a hope. Yet that is only partly true. Hope is not limited to this life and hope is never beyond those who still live and breathe and can make decisions. Hope is always available.
This week, we will be returning from eastern Europe. Writing in advance of the trip, we have not been able to include the former Soviet Union in our itinerary, but if we could, I would go to Techa’s banks and tell these suffering people about another river: the river of life, a river described in the first verses of Revelation 22.
“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
We cannot imagine water so clear, water that tastes of life itself, eternal life, life that heals and cleanses and refreshes. No river on earth can compare with it. It is perfect, totally unpolluted, completely without defilement.
Life, since the first sin in Eden, has been marked by tragedies of many kinds, most of which can be directly connected to human sin and error. We are guilty of ruining our own environment, whether through mistakes made in ignorance or deliberate defiance. Environmentalists and others wonder if it is too late to turn things around.
The sad truth is that the book of Revelation also talks about judgments on sin that include defiled oceans and rivers, “a third of the sea became blood; and a third of the living creatures in the sea died.... a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water because it was made bitter” and “the rivers and springs of water became blood...”
At the end of these terrible prophecies, the river of life is described and the invitation is made to all who want to escape the sorrows of this world: “The Spirit and the bride (the church) say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
Anyone can be refreshed and restored for all eternity by this river, even those who drink the polluted water of the Techa.