Sanctuary

Isaiah’s magisterial book has a way of overwhelming me with its scope and size, so I try to return fairly often, wanting to comprehend what’s going on in it. It helps to vary the pace as I read: sometimes I ingest large chunks, on other occasions I go for smaller bits. This pass through, it’s shorter segments, and trying to pay close attention. That’s how I found sanctuary in Isaiah 8:14, part of a section where the Lord is speaking about Himself:

The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the one you are to fear, He is the one you are to dread, and He will be a sanctuary.

The tense change is interesting–from is to will be–and to my ear conveys more the sense of condition than time. That is, we’re not hearing that at some future date the Lord will be a sanctuary; rather, right now, as one is fearing the Lord, one discovers that He is that sanctuary.

But mostly I’m interested in this notion of what the Lord offers. To be a sanctuary? The word often describes a place: a constructed and/or natural habitat for animals, or a quiet space apart from the craziness of daily life, or a particular room in a church building. So to call God a sanctuary is a tad unexpected, which in turn sets me to ponderin’.

The interconnected ideas of beauty and power flow from this word for me. A sanctuary–whether for animals or people–is available to and provided for those in need (which implies a supplier, a protector), but typically it’s also more than basic shelter. Sanctuaries get decorated, built and maintained, all with an eye on making them pleasing in every regard.

By likening Himself to a sanctuary, it seems like the Lord is suggesting similar notions–that with Him, one can be assured of protection (it’s interesting that when sanctuary, or holy, gets used of God, Almighty is often in the neighborhood as well), as well as an environment which satisfies deeply. Two powerful, beautiful ways of contemplating God.

And then, when I consider one of Paul’s favorite phrases–namely, ‘in Christ’–I can’t help thinking that part of what lies behind Paul’s reflection on what it means to walk/live ‘in Christ’ is this notion of sanctuary: we come to be where He is, and find there a place prepared, one that is secure and satisfying.

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