I wonder if, before Monday, March 16, 2020, you’d ever heard the term “shelter-in-place,” or, if you had, ever given it much thought. Overnight the phrase “shelter-in-place” has rocketed into our common vocabulary as a euphemism (okay, not totally so) for “lock down.” We in Santa Cruz County, like millions of other Californians, live at the moment under a “shelter-in-place” order.
The idea of “shelter-in-place” means to hunker down in response to a threat; to take cover; to seek refuge. The military uses this phrase to describe how personnel should respond to certain “chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear”events. More broadly, the idea of seeking shelter reminds me of months spent in Northern Iraq in 2007. From time-to-time indirect fire attacks (think rockets launched at a base) required us to seek shelter in a bunker until the immediate danger had passed. Like it or not, as a community we are all receiving “shelter-in-place” on-the-job-training, except this time it’s for real.
Now, while the chance to learn “shelter-in-place” may seem like a dubious honor at the moment, for we who treasure God’s Word it’s a golden opportunity (though, admittedly, it doesn’t always feel like one). Why should we think so? Well, just consider how much the idea of “shelter” or “refuge” appears in Scripture, whether with these words or other related synonyms (such as “stronghold” or “shade”). The image of hunkering down in response to a threat runs strong throughout the Bible. As we rehearse physically the practice of “shelter-in-place,” we have an opportunity to concurrently meditate spiritually, emotionally, mentally on truths like this one from Isaiah 25:4 (English Standard Version)– “For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat…”
Particularly in the Psalms, it’s clear that we as people need shelter, we need a refuge. Our world is a beautiful place. It’s a stunning and majestic place. And yet, it hides a fatal flaw…sin. Our world is a beautiful place broken by sin, and that makes it dangerous to us. Not only that, we ourselves are broken by sin, and thus become a danger to ourselves and to others. To top it all off, the greatest danger we face is not from the world external to us, and not even from ourselves internally, but rather from God himself, the same God who created us for his own glory. His wrath burns hot against sin – justly so – and we, if alone and unprotected, face grave, eternal danger in consequence! Consider how the American pastor-theologian Jonathan Edwards put this truth in stark terms during one of his more famous (and profound) sermons:
(Speaking of those in rebellion against God) The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose. It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward. If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it (Quoted from“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”).
Indeed, we need a refuge! But where are to find one? Where is the refuge strong enough to withstand the wrath of God himself? What bunker can hold up against the tidal wave of God’s anger? Consider with me Psalm 91.
Psalm 91 is a song, a prayer, of shelter and refuge. It is a prayer appropriate for days of “sheltering-in-place,” a song rightly sung when hunkering down in response to danger. Here are just the first four verses (from the New American Standard Bible):
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!” For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence [Note: “Pestilence.” What a great word for we who are sheltering from the pestilence that is COVID-19]. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
There is so much that we could think about just from these verses alone. But, notice just one point. The refuge that God commends is God himself. The shelter we need is none other than God. It is God who protects us from the wrath of God (not to mention something as fleeting as a potentially deadly virus)! How is that possible? How can we find shelter in God from God’s own wrath? Answer: The cross.
We can, we must, find shelter, refuge, in God himself, because God himself suffered his own wrath in the person of Jesus Christ, on a cross, at a place called Golgatha. Mark this…we find shelter because Jesus found none. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus saw the tidal wave of God’s anger rushing toward him: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me” (Luke 22:42a). And yet, even in the face of that horrific threat, he stood fast: “…yet not My will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42b). Some hours after this prayer the wave arrived with all its brutal, crushing force, while nothing and no one stood between Jesus and the waters of wrath. There was no shelter at the cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Because Jesus Christ endured the wrath of God for sin, we sinners can now find refuge in him. Here is Jonathan Edwards again, from the same sermon quoted above:
“And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.”
Many have found shelter, refuge in Jesus Christ. Have you?
Brothers and sisters, while you shelter-in-place today, remember Christ. And as you do, rejoice in the word of Psalm 91 that you can listen to in full by clicking here.