Standing on the street in front of our newly purchased lot, my husband and I babbled all the ideas and hopes for our first house. Brick type. Paint color. Carpet thickness. Weeks passed as we watched the slab poured and frame go up. Then walls and a roof. But it was stepping into the finished product when it finally hit me–this is our home! It’s where we’ll live and love and grow our family. It’s a house, sure. But, more importantly, it’s a place of belonging.
This memory has helped me grasp what it means, then, to understand God as our dwelling place. To see Him as a shelter in which we can step out of the rain is accurate, but He’s so much more. God as our dwelling place infers home, warmth, and love. It’s a place to go to be seen, known, and loved.
Just as Larry and I stepped across the threshold of our new house, intent on making it a home, God invites us to enter His presence in the same way. Because it’s a place of mutual intimacy.
I suspect that using the word ‘intimacy’ might trigger all sorts of crazy images and reactions. Much like ‘love,’ the word ‘intimate’ has been twisted by our culture. These words have become sexualized, so our brains and emotions leap to a place that feels wrong when associated with God. Yet God desires a relationship with each of us. It will serve us well to do some untwisting.
First, let’s detangle the meaning of ‘love.’ The Greeks had it right, giving multiple words to identify each facet of love. They appreciated the love of good friends (philia) even over that of romantic love (eros). The love of a parent (storge) had its own delineation, as did the pure, unconditional love of God (agape). With that loss of distinction in our society today, we lose the understanding of the kind of love God beckons us into.
Second, let’s untie the knots of ‘intimacy.’ These days the word ‘intimate’ has become a euphemism for sex–much in the same way Bible translations use the word ‘knew’ in place of saying a husband had intercourse with his wife (ie: Genesis 4:1, KJV). At some point in the Church, our sensibilities have led us to avoid the words ‘sex’ and ‘intimacy.’ Yet, God uses marriage to describe His relationship with His people throughout Scripture (Isaiah 54:5-8; Ezekiel 16:8-14; Jeremiah 3:20; Hosea 1:1-3; Ephesians 5:25-33; Revelation 19:7-9, etc), calling Himself the groom and Israel the bride. Denouncing Israel’s betrayal as adultery. All His language infers intimacy.
The twisting comes when we–even subconsciously–try to make God like man. God doesn’t prey upon His children with illicit desires. What He longs for is a closeness of mutual trust and love–just as He imagined marriage would be. As we unravel the kinks in our way of understanding and responding to the word ‘intimacy,’ we can step into grace to see God’s pureness, His goodness, His holiness. Nothing yucky or evil or untoward can exist in His presence (James 1:13; 1 John 1:5). So when He calls us to Him as our dwelling place, we can trust it is a space of safety and security but also one of intimacy.
Getting It Straight
The first use of this idea of God as a dwelling place for His people is in Deuteronomy 33, where Moses offers blessings for the tribes as they prepare to step into the promised land:
“There is none like God, O Jeshurun,Deuteronomy 33:26-27, ESV
who rides through the heavens to your help,
through the skies in his majesty.
The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.
This is the only occurrence of the Hebrew word meonah, defined as ‘habitation,’ where it is used figuratively of God as a dwelling place. Instead of meaning a literal place where animals (ie: a den) or people (ie: a house) live, Moses refers to God as the place we go to in order to feel at home.
As if to emphasize this picture of God as our dwelling place, Moses calls Israel by the name ‘Jeshurun’ (v.26), a poetic name of endearment used four times for Israel in the Old Testament. The Greek Septuagint translates ‘Jeshurun’ as beloved one, using a form of the word agape to connote what kind of dwelling God is–holy, pure, and unconditional in His love (gotquestions.org). Moses and Greek translators don’t want future readers (us!) to miss the love of the Father, who longs for us to remain in Him.
Another Hebrew word, maon, identifies God as our dwelling place:
Lord, you have been our dwelling placePsalm 90:1, NIV
throughout all generations.
This Psalm, also known as a prayer of Moses, employs maon to infer God, figuratively, as the abode of His people. Moses’ description of God as a dwelling place not only hints at His eternal nature but His function in our lives–He is the One we go to every day. He’s our home!
Running Toward Home
Perhaps my favorite image in all of the New Testament is that of the father running toward his prodigal son as he returns home after squandering everything he’d been given (Luke 15:11-32). The patriarchal society in which the story happens would have said disown the son. The son’s demand for his inheritance from his living father is the highest of insults. His reckless living further labels him as unworthy and unforgivable.
Yet the father, who’d been watching for his son, goes against the grain of culture to forgive and embrace his once lost son. His love-generated dash to meet his son reflects the unconditional love of our Father.
As I consider this story through the lens of God as a dwelling place, it occurs to me that the reason the son would return to his father in the first place is because of this idea of ‘home.’ Everything in the father’s actions–from granting the premature inheritance to throwing the lavish welcome home party–reflects God. Our Father gives us space to make our own choices, even when He knows the train wreck we’re causing in our lives. And, the minute we realize our mistakes and turn back to Him (a true repentance posture), God runs to meet us with arms outstretched, thrilled to have us restored to Him.
Seeing God as our dwelling place helps us run toward home any time we’ve been away. We know His forgiveness and love await us.
And, once we’re there–in our Dwelling Place–we can cultivate a closeness with God so that we’ll want to stay home everyday.
I acknowledge that after our pandemic-induced ‘sheltering in place,’ we may not like the idea of staying home. But, let’s remember this is figurative language. 😉 Let’s keep in mind the picture of God as the father who runs to hug his child. Let’s cling to the truth that God desires a close relationship with us.
Then, as the oft-prodigal children we tend to be, we can look forward to a love-filled homecoming–in a place we want to remain. Yes, in our forever home with Jesus as our dwelling place (Revelation 21:3), but also in the here and now.
I feel like this describes exactly what I’ve been discovering about God in the last two years.
Journaling my way through the early weeks of 2020, I began to recognize my exhaustion and near burnout. I started to see how I’d been running so hard after the things of God that I’d failed to actually be with God. And my heart broke. I’d read about God’s true rest, and I longed for it. But even more, I just desired God Himself.
This burning in my soul, this yearning to be in God’s presence, began a journey I suspect I’ll be walking the rest of my days here on earth. I also suspect I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the beauty of God’s peace-filled dwelling place. But, here’s what I know.
- God waits for us to enter His presence. His Word is full of encouragement to seek Him, to know Him, to be still with Him. These are not demands packed with promises of punishment. These are heartfelt invitations to enter into a holy intimacy with our Creator.
- God desires us to remain in His presence. Appearances at church and apathetic attempts at reading the Bible aren’t what He’s after. He’s created a home in which we’re invited to stay. We don’t just pack a bag for the weekend, but we move in. This is our permanent address. This is the place of holy remaining.
There’s so much more to discover and say and do and hope for as we dig into this idea of remaining with God. So we’ll continue this conversation in the coming weeks.
For now, know that working out our faith requires us to trust that we can go to God for anything, anytime–no matter what’s happening in our world, no matter the state of our hearts, no matter how long it’s been since we left home. God awaits our return. He longs for our presence. He desires intimacy with the child He deeply loves.
So, let’s step through the threshold and make our Father our dwelling place.
- Our Dwell Playlist includes a song by Shane & Shane: “Psalm 84” (aka: “I’m Home”). Hear how beautifully (and simply) they put this idea of God as our dwelling place into words:
When I stand in Your presence, I am free
When I sit at Your table
I am right where I belong
In the doorway of my Father’s house, I’m home
Wherever I go, I’m home
‘Cause You’re here, in my soul
- I mentioned journaling each day for months in 2020 and how all that “putting to words” helped me identify the state of my weary, dry soul. It also helped purge my pride and my tendency to supplant God with busyness. I invite you to do some writing and explore your soul’s status as well as what God might be calling you to. I’ll assume it has something to do with remaining in Him. 😉 So, this week, use words and/or images to do some detective work. Journal freely–no grammar rules, no right or wrong way to put things down onto paper. Ask the Spirit to help you sit still and focus on Him. Ask the Father to welcome you into His loving embrace so you can feel His holy love pour into you. Then respond.
- So. Just over a month ago my Facebook and Instagram were disabled for illicit content. (Kinda ironic considering my content in this post–ha.) But, I’d been hacked. Then disabled. I suppose it’s possible that someday I might have my accounts restored, but I’m tired of waiting. So, here’s my new Instagram account: @shelleylinnjohnson. Hope to see you there! Someday soon I’ll create an author’s page on Facebook, but this is a start. XOXO