The Shelter of God's Word: Are You among the Prophets?
- Wednesday, August 29, 2007
And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 19:24)
This story of David’s fleeing for refuge among the prophets of the Lord is instructive for us in many ways. Many in the world are working hard to shelter the rest of us from what they regard as the harmful effects of religion, and especially, of the Bible.
To protect us from the evil influences of objective law, they have removed the Ten Commandments from the schools and court houses of the land. To shelter us against the dangerous effects of the knowledge of God (so Christopher Hitchens), they have decreed that all conversation about matters spiritual or Biblical should be regarded as strictly private and personal, without entrée into the public square. To shelter our youth from the Bible’s claims to absolute truth, they have banned it from the classrooms. And to shelter even the faithful from a too-serious regard for the Word of God, scholars from within the camp seek new and more respectable ways of undermining the authority of Scripture.
In some churches there is even a desire to shelter “seekers” and other visitors from the Word of God. Members are instructed to leave their Bibles at home, and are assured that as much of it as they might need on any given Sunday—or that the seekers pressing in all around them might be able to stand—will be provided in the bulletin or on a projection screen.
Preaching, accordingly, is backing away from the clear and uncompromised exegesis and exposition of the text into the realm of anecdote and story, complemented by drama, to fit the demands of a generation hooked on entertainment.
We are an age frantic to find shelter from the bright light and oppressive heat of the Word of God. David, on the other hand, knew that there was no better place to be, particularly when matters of life and death are on the line.
In King Saul’s later years he devoted himself less to governing the nation and more to hunting down his hated rival, the young David. During one of his flights from God, David took shelter with Samuel and the prophets at Ramah.
Saul, discovering his whereabouts, sent “messengers” to dispatch him. But three times those “messengers,” coming under the influence of the Word of God, were stopped in their tracks and utterly transformed. Finally, King Saul himself came to Ramah, but with precisely the same result. He also was overcome by the Spirit and Word of God, and lay prostrate and submissive throughout his stay in Ramah.
David had gone to find shelter from his enemy in the community of the Word of God, and his God did not fail or disappoint him.
Can the Word of God provide such shelter today? And does understanding that we live among a generation who want nothing so much as to be sheltered from the Bible help us to understand the problems and confusion that threaten our neighbors and friends?
There are five ways that the Bible can be a shelter for people today. Those who know and love the Scriptures have already discovered the truth of its sheltering power. But it will help us to see just how the Scriptures remain as a shelter for our contemporaries as well.
A Shelter from Fear
The fear of death is as present and palpable today as it was when the writer of Hebrews observed that it haunted all men, all their lives (Hebrews 2:15). Our generation is working harder than ever to postpone death, or, if they can’t postpone it, to euphemize it as to ameliorate its sting. TV programs speculate on death and what follows; recent episodes of both Grey’s Anatomy and CSI featured conversations between the dead and near-dead designed to encourage us to believe that maybe death is not so final after all.
So we would like to think. But deep inside, men and women know that one day they will lie cold in that grave, turning to dust, just like any dumb animal, and the terror and finality of it stalks them all their days.
But the Bible mocks death: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). The Bible is able to do this because it relates the powerful story of how God Himself has overcome death for us through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is why Christians can find comfort at the passing of a loved one, even as they grieve their loss and long for the resurrection to come. This is why Christian martyrs in many parts of the world refuse to compromise their testimonies on pain of death; they know death is not the end, and the proclamation of life in Christ and victory over the grave is mankind’s greatest need and hope.
The more one takes shelter in the Word of God, the more the promise of life, bliss, and peace beyond this brief space of time is urged upon us, until the fear of death no longer exerts its tiresome toll, and the assurance of life brings hope and peace even in the face of life’s mortal end.
A Shelter from Hopelessness
The Bible thus provides a shelter of hope in an age of hopelessness. Press any unbelieving contemporary on the question of hope, press him far enough, and all that he can really hope for is—death! Death for himself. Death for his loved ones. Death for our civilization. Death for the universe. Death for any hope of life anywhere, ever again.
True, many hope to find happiness here, or success, fortune, fame, or just fun. But these hopes are all false, or, at best, fleeting, for they shall all one day be dashed to pieces by the inevitability of death. No wonder Paul described those who live apart from God as “without hope in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).
But the message of the Bible is the message of hope—Christ in you, as Paul put it, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)! He who overcame death and the grave, and lives forever by the power of an indestructible life, comes to indwell those who believe in Him, imparting to them not just the hope of everlasting life, but the hope of a meaningful, joyful, powerful life of loving God and others in the here and now.
The Bible thrusts upon us the hope of life, real life, full and abundant life (John 10:10, 14:6), and invites us to drink it up (Psalm 36:7-9), feast on it to the full (Revelation 3:20), celebrate it with joy (Psalm 116:12,13), and pass it on to others (John 14:6; Acts 1:8). You cannot shelter long in the Word of God without becoming caught up in the message of life and hope it shouts on virtually every page.
A Shelter from Deceit
It is a common complaint that no one seems to want to tell the truth these days. But then, our intellectual elites reassure us, there is no truth, so what’s to tell? It is as in David’s day: “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak” (Psalm 12:2).
In a world where truth is utterly relative—that is, non-existent—the best anyone can do is try cautiously to navigate the uncertain shoals of deception and half-truth as they tack toward whatever they have determined to be their hope. But then . . .
In his own day of deception and half-truths, David took shelter in the Word of God: “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. You, O LORD, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever” (Psalm 12:6,7). The Scriptures claim to be truth from God, and all who have lined their lives up with those plain and profound words have found them to be precisely that.
As we shelter in the Word of God we find the truth that enables us to make sense of everything else in life, and to chart a safe and meaningful course for our own journey.
A Shelter from Whim
Pop culture celebrates the putative glories of uncertainty and change. Top 10 lists change daily. Pop stars rise and fall. Pop couples pledge eternal love and break up on a whim. Who was last year’s “American Idol”? Who cares? Pop culture communicates a culture of whim: “If it feels good, do it,” as the mantra from Laugh-In had it. But one person’s whim can be another person’s tragedy. Just ask the students at Virginia Tech.
The Scriptures provide a shelter from the whims of a society without moral anchors. In the story of Ruth, she is lauded for having come to Bethlehem, caring for her mother-in-law, in order to find shelter under the wings of the Lord (Ruth 2:12).
Practically, what that meant was that she rested her future well-being in the Law of God and the judges who ruled by that Law in Bethlehem. And, as it turned out, this complete outsider, this Moabitess, prospered in the blessings of the Lord because of her willingness to take shelter in His Law. Those who set down their anchors in the Bible find it to be a faithful and secure hold against the shifting sands of moral and cultural whim and fancy.
A Shelter from Stasis
Many today complain that their lives are boring. It’s the same-old same-old, day-in and day-out. Get up, go to work, drive home, eat a bite, watch some tube, do this or that—every day pretty much the same. “Nothing ever changes, everything remains the same” as Larry Norman, echoing Solomon, once sang.
But the message of the Bible is quite the opposite. Jesus, whose story the Bible tells, is the one who is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). He is making us new men and women, replete with His beauty, goodness, and truth (Ephesians 4:17-24). He is making new culture and renewing moribund institutions and traditions. He is pointing the way to newness in every area of life, bringing truth, hope, life, and the love of God into every area of human existence.
Those who shelter in the Bible find themselves caught up in its message of freshness, newness, and life, and discover that they are always growing and always seeking new ways of living for the glory of the God Who is making all things new.
Have compassion on the generation who are being sheltered from the Word of God. There is yet a shelter for them—from fear and uncertainty, disappointment and hopelessness, deception and disillusionment—and it is waiting for them in the pages of Holy Scripture.
You and I can take them there, that is, provided we are each day finding the shelter of God’s Word to be the place of renewal and restoration that David and countless other saints and faithful ones have known it to be.
Would you describe yourself as “sheltering in the Word of God”? How might you help another person begin to discover that glorious shelter as well?
T. M. Moore is dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of 20 books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are The Ailbe Psalter and The Ground for Christian Ethics (Waxed Tablet), and Culture Matters (Brazos). He and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Concord, Tenn.
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