Thanks to the global pandemic of COVID-19, we have new phrases in our cultural vocabulary.
Not very long ago, those phrases would have seemed odd. They've made me ponder the word: shelter; the various uses of the word in the earthly sense and in the spiritual reality.
Grammatically, shelter can be a noun or a verb.
It is a noun: a shelter: a place of safety, of refuge, of protection from danger.
It is a verb: to shelter or to be sheltered: to give protection or to be given protection.
Yet, it is a more finely faceted word than either part of speech describes.
I can do the verbs: I can be sheltered. I can shelter someone else.
But I can't be the noun: I cannot be a shelter.
Can you see the subtlety - or am I just being a grammar nerd?!
The necessity of needing shelter (sheltering or being sheltered) implies danger: storm, attack, disease. One seeks shelter out of a fear or a foreboding. I need to be somewhere safe.
We seek shelter from a threatening storm - not from a balmy breeze. From a dangerous person - not from a friend.
God shelters us in Himself. He is the noun AND the verb!
God doesn't need shelter; He IS shelter.
The Bible is replete with images of God sheltering and of being shelter. Here is a sampling (please notice that in some verses, I run to the shelter, in others, the shelter comes to me):
- Shelter: "I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm. (Psalm 55:8 - ESV)"
- Strong tower: "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Provers 18:10 - ESV)"
- Stronghold: "But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. (Psalm 59:16 - ESV)"
- Rock: "The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2 - ESV)"
- Shield:"For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:12 - ESV)"
- Shade: "The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. (Psalm 121:5 - ESV)"
- Wings: "Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! (Psalm 61:4 - ESV)"
- Shadow: "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1 - ESV)"
- Refuge:"But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. (Psalm 5:11-12 - ESV)"
- Hiding place: "You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. (Psalm 119:14 - ESV)"
And even more than all of that: we have Jesus. In the Gospels, we see Him being shelter, vividly in several places.
- Calming the storm with His command: "Peace! Be still! (Mark 4:39 - ESV)" The result: "there was a great calm." Not just a calm - but a GREAT calm. Can you hear the hush as the wind ceases, the waves still, the boat rocks the men in a great calm?
- One of my favorite Gospel moments is Jesus's lament - describing Himself as a lowly chicken: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, ... How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34 - ESV)" Can you almost see it: Jesus is talking - pouring out His heart for the people - there's a hen pecking and squawking nearby - she tenses, alert to danger that her hatchlings aren't aware of. She draws them to herself - under her spread wings they are safe. Hens don't use their wings to fly - only to protect what is theirs. All his listeners knew what He was describing - that simple, protective act. But how interesting that He didn't describe a military commander. Or even the rooster. But a mother's strong wings.
- And the tearing of the temple curtain. Why do I list that among ways Jesus shelters us? It's one of my very favorite parts of Holy Week. I've written about it before (see blog post from 4-20-19 - "Good Friday and Silent Saturday"). At the same time Jesus died,"behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51 - ESV)" The Holy of Holies was now open. The temple curtains, previously prevented sinful people from the danger of wandering into the purity and power of the sacred, now torn open - to provide shelter from our sin in the holiness of God, the Holiest of Holies. Forever.
And one more example:
- toward the very end of the Bible, John describes God as not only being a shelter but sheltering. His very presence will be a shelter: “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. (Revelation 7:15 - ESV)"
His part is to shelter and be a shelter.
Our part is to abide. To dwell. To be sheltered.
And perhaps to shelter others in our sanctuary city.
We are not alone. We are His.
In Him we live and move and have our being.
Acts 17:28 - ESV