A Reflection on Shiloh

Dear Friends,

I shared this post last summer when I was in Israel, after visiting the historic site of Shiloh.  Because I felt it fit nicely with my last post, I've decided to actually put it on the blog.  I'm sorry to those of you for whom this is a repeat.

A Reflection on Shiloh:  A little over a year ago my brother and sister-in-law miscarried.  Amy was early in the pregnancy when she lost the baby that she and Caleb named Shiloh.  They honored the baby by going up on the Parkway and having a memorial service. 

Today, I visited the historic site of Shiloh, where the Tabernacle of the LORD once stood.  I could not help but think about the unborn child throughout much of my time reflecting on God's sanctuary that inhabited this place over 3,000 years ago.  Shiloh is a location where God caused His Name to dwell.  It is a place that He made his sanctuary.  It is a site that was very special to Him.  In the Bible we only have a handful of places that God especially calls His own.  Shiloh is one of them.  I thought about how the Tabernacle would have likely stood on the plateau in front of me.  I imagined the inner sanctum - the Holy of Holies - where only the High Priest could go (and that only once a year).  I pondered how it is that in this very space God preserved for Himself a hidden room, that only His eyes saw on a continual basis.  And, I thought about how only God ever saw baby Shiloh.  He is the only One who ever knew this unborn person.  And, I realized that just as God preserved for himself a secret place in Shiloh of Israel - that only He was allowed to see (with any sort of regularity) - so God preserved for Himself the same kind of place in the soul of Shiloh Johnson. 

I have never known the pain of a miscarriage personally.  But, I know from others that there is something about it that seems like Hell.  It seems vain, and empty, and evil.  It reminds us of brokenness, and a world that is not well.  Today, however, I wondered if in some way there might also be something more of Heaven in it than we realize.  Of course to us it feels like Hell.  That is because we never have the privilege of knowing the child.  We never get to see the person develop.  We never get to see the baby grow up into a man or a woman.  We never get to celebrate the birthdays, and the Christmases, and the high school graduation, and the marriage.  And, in this, there is a complete and utter sense of loss. 

But, today I thought about how God does see the child.  Although He grieves our loss with us - He does not lose the soul in the same way that we do.  He knits the soul together in the womb.  He knows intimately the unborn baby, just as he knows the mother.  And, with every child who is never brought into this world, there is a sense in which God preserves the soul exclusively for Himself. 

I thought today about how this is just like God.  I am told that humans have never seen most of the universe.  No man has ever laid eyes upon the majority of the beauty in the cosmos.  There are entire galaxies, with quasars, and suns, and planets, and moons, that not one person has ever experienced.  So too, I am told that there are caves - in the arctic - that people will occasionally discover.  They will find that inside of them are incredible ice crystal palaces, that are intensely beautiful.  And, when these caves are discovered, the consensus is frequently that they have never before been seen by mankind's eye.  Likewise, I've been told that in the very deep ocean, there are animals that most of us would never imagine.  From time to time, some man or woman will go on an expedition and will find them.  But, for the most part, these fantastic creatures are known to no-one but God.  Yes - God is accustomed to keeping some things exclusively for Himself.  Some things - and some people - He preserves only for His own enjoyment. 

Today as I thought on all of these things at Shiloh, I composed this proverb:  "There are three secret things that the LORD loves, even four in which His soul alone delights:  the distant galaxy, in which He spreads His Heavenly tent; the crystal cave, which He makes into His private palace; the ocean floor, in which He hides His peculiar treasures; and the unborn child, whose soul He will not allow to be spotted by the world." 

I know that we good protestants don't believe in praying on behalf of the dead.  However, I know of no rule - protestant or otherwise - that forbids us to pray to God about His relationship with the dead.  (And - after all - He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.  For to Him, all are alive anyway.)  So, this morning I prayed that God would delight Himself especially in this secret one: Shiloh.  I prayed that God would find great pleasure today in this soul that He made entirely for Himself.  And although my eyes have never seen the inner sanctum of Shiloh, I am encouraged today to remember the One who chose Shiloh for His own private sanctuary.

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My People, Beloved

I’ve just finished watching the new movie, “Annie,” with the boys.  It is a remake of the old version.  And, it isn’t nearly as good.  Who could possibly out-perform Carol Burnett as Ms. Hannigan?

But, as we were watching, even the bad acting and the cheesy music moved me.  And, I realized that this movie has a very common theme with Les Miserables.  A father figure – one who has no biological children of his own – comes to love dearly a child from another.  It is a profound, and a resonant, story.

What I love about both of these tales is that they defy – quite boldly – the common concept that the greatest love in the universe is that of a father or mother for their biological children.  There is a reason that most of us think this way.  It is the common story.  And surely, it is the way that God created humanity to work.  God placed man and woman in the garden with the intention that they should have children (explicitly stated in Genesis 1 and 2).  And then, Malachi tells us millennia later that God’s primary design for marriage was that He desired “godly offspring.”

But, alas, that isn’t the whole story.  Throughout the Bible we find a counter-thread.  We see something that diverges from the normal.  We see a theme of “adoption.”  We read Hosea, and discover that God Himself longs to call those who are “not My people,” “My people.”  He wants to say to those who are “not beloved” that they are “beloved.”

And then again in the New Testament, we read that God, the Father, sacrificed His own seed – His own “biological” heir – because He loved something else.  In this manner God loved the world, that He gave His only biological heir, that we might be saved through Him.  In the economy of God, He decided that it was somehow worth it to give not only “men for thy ransom,” but also His own – and only begotten –Son.

Yes, what Annie, and Les Miserables, and Hosea, and the Gospel of John remind me of is that somehow God decided that there is a love that not only countervails the love of a parent for their biological children, but also prevails over that love.  It is the love that God has for us.  And, it is the love that He expects us to exhibit, precisely to those who did not “come forth from our loins.”  The message of Genesis is that “one shot forth from thy hip” shall inherit your possessions.  But, the message of the new beginning in Christ is that God sacrificed the heir, that He may be the firstborn among many brethren.

I remember not too many years ago having a conversation with my neighbor across the street.  He and his wife had been told that they could not conceive.  She was practically barren.  I remember saying to this neighbor something to the effect of, “The creation mandate is that we are to procreate.  But, I don’t believe that is God’s design for all of us.  The Bible tells two stories:  One of Creation, the other of Redemption.  What if your story is to be one not of creating a child, but of redeeming the broken story of one that you did not create?” 

This is the situation in which I find myself now.  And, I take great delight in it.  I meet the frowning faces of some.  I’ve had it said to me more than once, “Don’t you want your own children?”  And, with this statement usually comes a dismissive gaze – or a glare –or an incredulous expression of “You can’t be serious about what you are doing.”

But, I want to say that I am quite serious.  And, that I think that the life I am living is not subpar in any way to those who have their own children.  I believe the Bible tells two stories:  One of Creation, and the other of Redemption.  I am very happy that for most people, God has decided that they are to be a living sacrament of Creation.  But, I think that I am perhaps more happy that God has chosen that I should be one of Redemption

I am a broken sacrament.  I do not tell God’s story perfectly.  Some days I’m mortified at how poorly I tell it.  But, alas, that’s why we have the Gospel:  To remind us that God didn’t just create the world.  He – with His own arm – and in the crushing of His own Son – is bringing many sons to glory.  In a very real sense, “I and my sons are for signs and for symbols.”  We are far from the real thing.  For that You’ll have to look to Scripture.  We just testify to the real thing (albeit poorly) in every day life.

So – to those of you out there who can’t conceive, and to those who aren’t even married, and to those who don’t know if they are even supposed to beget children, I wish to challenge you with a thought:  What if your life isn’t about Creation?  What if it is about Redemption?  What if you aren’t telling the first part of the story?  What if you are telling the second part?  Don’t let your life be consigned to Genesis.  Try Hosea, and John.  Don’t miss out on what God has for you, because you didn’t fit into the part of the Gospel you might have originally chosen.  Let God choose for you.  It need not be any less satisfying (and it might even be more satisfying) than the choice you would have made for yourself.

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