God is Our Shelter

God is our shelter and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1 (Good News)

Thursday morning was cold and damp. After days of rain, the temperature had fallen. Guests gathered on the porch and in the front yard to await the opening of Manna House. No doubt they felt the brisk and soggy North wind that ran right through clothes and went deep into bones. After a long night under a bridge, or tucked into an abandoned building, or in a tent deftly hidden in a wooded area, the desire to be welcomed into a warm place and get a cup of hot coffee, is palpable.

So, as I came from the house onto the porch with the other volunteers, I called out to the guests waiting, “Good morning. We’re going to say a short prayer and then open. If you want to join in, that’s fine; if you don’t that’s fine too.”

I felt the frozen hands of a guest to my right and my left as we joined hands to form our circle for prayer,

“Let’s pray,” I said, and so I began, “Thank you God for the clouds, the rain, and the cold.” The guests laughed. Thank God for what? Kathleen suggested I was trying to use reverse psychology on God. More laughter. Maybe I was.

But I was also thinking of the three young men Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in King Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace who sang in resistance,

Cold and chill, bless the Lord;

praise and exalt God above all forever.

Frost and chill, bless the Lord;

praise and exalt God above all forever.

Hoarfrost and snow, bless the Lord;

praise and exalt God above all forever. (Daniel 3:67, 69-70)

Resistance. God is above all forever. God is not defeated by, is not under, but is sovereign over the ruler that put the three young men in the furnace. They are not submitting to a mere king. And God is sovereign over the powers (economic, political, and cultural) that put people out in the cold on the streets. Those powers neither have the last word, nor do they determine the worth and dignity of those rendered homeless.

But how do I give witness to the resistance stance that God is above all forever? I think one way consistent with God’s character is to offer shelter, a place of refuge, a place of hospitality.

I have been reflecting on how often the Bible testifies to God giving shelter. One of my favorite psalms begins, “God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Shelter or refuge appears over twenty times in the Bible in reference to God. (Hebrew, machaseh—”shelter,” sometimes translated “refuge,” or sithrah—”shelter,” or in Greek, skēnōsei, see Revelation 7:15, “shelter” or “tabernacle with”). A basic characteristic of God is that God offers shelter.

God’s shelter protects, hides, secures, comforts, and welcomes those who are vulnerable, despised, and denigrated by the powers that be. God’s shelter affirms human dignity and rejects the mean-spirited ostracizing of the poor.

The prophet Isaiah contrasts God’s shelter with the way of cruel and ruthless rulers, “For You have been a refuge for the poor, a stronghold for the needy in distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like rain against a wall” (Isaiah 25:4).

In these days, those in power promote and amplify the disparaging and mocking of the poor, the refugee, the immigrant, or anyone identified as somehow not “great.” God is not having it, and I must not either. Cold and chill must bless the Lord. The cold-hearted must be thwarted by offering God’s shelter. And God’s shelter does not warehouse the poor and coerce into worship as a condition for services offered. God’s shelter finally means a home, a place to live. To follow the God who shelters, hospitality must point in that direction and must advocate for housing, homes. Anything less is complicity, not resistance.

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