As I was on a walk today, overwhelmed by the beauty of nature, I felt the lack of nature I’ve actually had in my life recently. Aside from the summers I worked at camp every day, I can’t remember the last time I spent my summer days basking in the sun. I can’t remember the last autumn where I truly felt immersed in all the colors and ambience of a crisp chill season.
I was struck by the reality of how much time I actually spend inside a box, completely out of touch with the outside world. I rarely go outside except to get to my temperature-controlled car, which will take me to another temperature-controlled box somewhere else. The other day when I was sick, I stayed inside the whole entire day, and I wouldn’t have been able to even tell you what kind of day it had been outside.
Firstly, I mourn this lack of “outsideness” in my own life, and I hope to rectify that.
Secondly- which actually leads me to the point of this post- our idea of shelter in today’s world is a place that is 100% isolated from and unaffected by the outside world. We can come inside from 100 degree heat and end up needing to put on a sweater. We can escape the bitter chill of a snow storm, wrap up in blankets with a hot beverage, and forget the snow outside even exists. We never really have to go long without feeling completely comfortable.
The world wasn’t always this way. Before we had our temperature-controlled boxes, people had to deal with much of the outside conditions even in their own homes. On a cold winter’s night, even the heat of a fireplace can only do so much. If you are in the middle of summer in all its heat and humidity, you certainly would know it, even inside your house.
In reading the Psalms, there are numerous passages about God being our “shelter” in the midst of a storm. Example: “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:5).
Our expectation of shelter is a place where you can go to completely escape and disconnect from the outside world– a place where we can get comfortable again quite quickly. When we hear of God as our “shelter”, we place those expectations on him, hoping him to be one that will hide us away from the problems of the world. We become frustrated and angry when we still face pain, confusion, and hurt. But perhaps this isn’t the kind of shelter God provides for us.
Let’s imagine for a moment: we’ve been hiking on a cold, dark, rainy night for miles. We are weary and miserable. Just as we feel we can go no further, a tent appears on the side of the path. As we get into the tent, we find immediate relief from the rain that’s been beating down on our frail bodies. Of course we can still hear the rain, we are still quite cold and wet, and we know we are not entirely immune from lightning or floods. We couldn’t forget the storm we just came from when we are essentially still in the midst of it. But we feel safer. We feel relief. We can find rest.
When God offers us relief, he doesn’t remove the storm. He doesn’t put us into a comfortable little box, adjusted to our perfect temperature, so that we can forget all about the problems of the world. He holds us in his arms while the storm rages around us, in the midst of all the pain, confusion, and hurt. He doesn’t allow us to get comfortable– because then we forget how much we need him. We’d forget what he has rescued us from. He allows us to experience the storm as he holds us through it, that we may know our need of him.
“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” -Isaiah 25:4a