Throughout the Psalms and elsewhere in the scriptures the various authors raise their praise to God, describing Him as their rock. Psalm 18 is particularly effuse with this expression: In its second verse it proclaims: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” As a seminarian and in my early priesthood this was how I described God if anyone asked me how I perceived Him. He is my rock, my solid foundation in which I find my security throughout the challenges of life. There are several characteristics of a rock that I found comforting. It is unchangeable; it doesn’t move so you can count on finding it when you are seeking solid security. It can provide protection. It can give you a vantage point over others. There was, however, one thing missing and as I grew I began to realize how significant that missing characteristic was.
A rock is not a person. It neither moves towards or away from anything. It is just there. In our earliest encounters with God (our father Abraham and his descendants) when there was a significant encounter with God they would build altars of rocks at the place of encounter. They would offer prayers and sacrifices to the altar of rocks that stood for the encounter with the living God. This progressed to King David’s time when he felt moved to build a house for the tabernacle that had since the time of Moses been the symbol of God’s presence to the Israelite nation. It was David’s son Solomon who built the temple. It was a beautiful edifice of stone and cedar wood, gilded with gold. When it was inaugurated God’s Spirit filled it with a mighty cloud that could not be penetrated. This house of stone became the place to encounter God and to offer the prescribed sacrifices.
After the fall of Jerusalem the temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were dispersed throughout the known world. They had no central place to encounter God. After 70 years of diaspora the exiles were allowed to go back to Jerusalem and were encouraged to rebuild their temple. When they completed this task they began to worship there again. However the Spirit of God was never restored. At the birth of Jesus as Mary and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the temple to be circumcised; Simeon takes Jesus out of Mary’s hands and he begins to pray: Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word, because my eyes have seen your salvation. You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples. (Luke 2:29-31)
What had always been missing was given to us in a real form. God is more than a rock of refuge, He is a person to be encountered, and in that encounter we are loved by God and can love Him in return.