On the upper Niagara River, on the border between Canada and the United States, signs mark a "point of no return." Going beyond that point means most likely going over Niagara Falls.
In July of 1960 James Honeycutt took 7-year-old Roger Woodward and his sister, Deanne, for a boat ride on the upper Niagara River. According to one account, he had gone past the point of no return. He tried to turn his 14-foot aluminum motorboat around, but a shear-pin failure disabled the motor, leaving the boat and those in it at the mercy of the current.
The boat quickly flipped over, and its three former passengers were headed for the falls. Luckily Deanne floated close enough to Goat Island that some tourists were able to pull her to safety. Her brother Roger and James Honeycutt were not so fortunate and were swept over Horseshoe Falls, over which 3,000 tons of water crash every second. Miraculously, Roger survived. Sadly, James Honeycutt was battered and drowned.
Can we learn something from this event that happened 50 years ago? Perhaps, like me, you felt relieved that Roger survived his trip over Horseshoe Falls. But what about James Honeycutt? Did he ignore the warning signs? Or maybe he saw them but thought he would be able to turn his boat around in time, not realizing that a failure of the boat's engine would mean entrapment in the current of the Niagara River.
Ignoring the Warning Signs
Do we have family or friends who continue to steer their boats down society's river of culture, ignoring the warning signs of where their way of life is leading them? What about you? An individual person might be able to turn his or her life around, but what about a society? Can people eventually work themselves into a predicament they cannot get out of? God shows us an example in the Bible of how this scenario once played out in the lives of a nation.
In Amos chapter 4, starting in verse 6, God speaks to a people who are perilously close to going past the point of no return—hence the recurring phrase, "Yet you have not returned to Me." God was warning the children of Israel in the 8th century B.C. that they were reaching the point where they were no longer hearing His call, and would no longer be able to return.
In verse 6 He says, "Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities. And lack of bread in all your places; yet you have not returned to Me."
God continues in verses 7 and 8, "I also withheld rain from you...I made it rain on one city, and I withheld rain from another city...Yet you have not returned to Me."
This refrain continues through verse 11, culminating in verses 12 and 13: "'Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you; prepare to meet your God, O Israel!' For behold, He who forms mountains, and creates the wind, who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning darkness, who treads upon the high places of the earth—the Lord God of hosts is His name."
Amos points out to the children of Israel that they had forgotten how to do the right thing. They had tolerated sin for so long they no longer knew how to do what was right. It's obvious many in our society have forgotten how to do what is right. But what about us? Do we play fast and loose with God's way of life, thinking we will someday be able to turn the proverbial boat around and everything will be okay? But what if we reach the point of no return just like the children of Israel, where we no longer know how to do what is right? Will God allow us to suffer the same fate as society in the hope of bringing us back to Him?
You might say, "But God is patient and merciful?" Indeed He is! Two scriptures come to mind about how God bears long with us (Numbers 14:27; Luke 18:7). But as Alistair Begg points out in his message on Amos, God is not a moral invertebrate. God has a backbone, and as a result, He can be provoked once too often. He can and sometimes does say, "This is the last straw."
The book of Amos is a record of just such an occasion in the history of the people of Israel when God's patience ran out, reminding all of us of something He said a long time ago: Blessing accompanies obedience, and judgment accompanies disobedience (Alistair Begg, The Lion's Roar, 2006).
Fighting the Current
The first question all of us must continually ask ourselves is what is the right thing to do? The first question every young man and woman in a relationship must ask themselves is what is the right thing to do? The first question a husband and wife whose relationship is on the brink of failure must ask themselves is what is the right thing to do? No matter who we are, and what circumstances we may find ourselves in, there's a voice that continually cries out, "Are we doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord our God?" (see Deuteronomy 12:28).
We must listen to God's voice, telling us the way and warning us if we are heading down the wrong path. When we come to the sobering realization that God will bring us all into judgment—and I mean when we really believe it and want to do something about it—we stand before the narrow gate that Jesus Christ spoke of in Matthew chapter 7. At that moment, we have to choose to walk through it. On the other side lies the narrow path to eternal life. It's not easy to stay on that path, and doing so requires navigating our lives upstream against the current of a wicked society that will take us over the falls if we let it.
We live in a society today similar to the one that received the message Amos delivered. His striking metaphors, wrapped around the themes of justice and righteousness, represent some of the best poetic literary skill of all the prophets. He warned the children of Israel that if they did not heed God's call and return to a life of righteousness, their preoccupation with material things, their religious hypocrisy and their moral perverseness would destroy the nation. In one of his most famous statements, he calls for an end to the noisiness of their ways and for the sound of purity in rushing water.
He writes, "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24, English Standard Version).
Don't Wait Until It's Too Late
The Niagara Parks Web site contains a historical record documenting how the waters ceased to flow in 1848. Anyone who has ever seen Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side would think it impossible for there to exist any force strong enough to stop the gigantic rush of water, yet it happened once.
For 30 long, silent hours, the river ceased to flow. The falls dried up, and those who were brave enough walked or rode horses over the rock floor of the channel. In March of 1848 local inhabitants, accustomed to the sound of the river, were awakened by a strange, eerie silence. Niagara had stopped! Many rushed to churches to pray, and panic filled the air.
Late that evening, "with a roar that shook the foundations of the earth, a solid wall of water, cresting to a great height, curled down the channel and crashed over the brink of the precipice. Niagara was back in business to the immense relief of everyone.
"News traveled slowly in those days, but the explanation finally came. High winds set the ice fields of Lake Erie in motion and millions of tons of ice became lodged at the source of the river, blocking the channel completely until finally a shift in the forces of nature released it and the pent up weight of water broke through" (www.niagaraparks.com/media/niagara-falls-stopped.html).
God's justice and righteousness may be held back for a time, but eventually, just like the mighty Niagara River 160 years ago, the forces of a realm that we only dimly see will shift, and the pent-up weight of justice will run down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream!
We can be thankful that God is not only a God of justice but also a God of mercy, and He knows how to "deliver the godly out of temptations" (2 Peter 2:9). There may come a time (if not already) when it will be too late to change the drift of a nation from its longtime moral foundations, but that doesn't mean it's too late for you.
If this message is resonating in your heart, then you haven't crossed the point of no return. The words of God through Moses still ring out across the millennia, "Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 12:28). UN