I said goodbye today to the office I occupied for more than twelve years. Much-needed renovations mean the school is moving elsewhere for now. Faculty offices will be reconfigured, and the old ones all demolished.
After all the boxes were packed and the desk emptied, I took some time to reflect on all that had happened and been done in this place. I thought of conversations with students, faculty, and staff, the many books and articles read and digested, the countless class sessions created and prepared for, the mass of papers and assignments read through and graded, the meals eaten, the times of prayer, worship, and contemplation where I heard from, talked, pleaded, wrestled with, and even raged against God. I cried, laughed, prayed, listened, and sang here—alone and with others.
In the midst of my musings and grief, it suddenly struck me: Through the years his humble little corner had become a holy haven, a sacred space.
Because of dangers and abuses, Evangelicals often avoid designating some spaces more sacred than others. We don’t want them to become idolatrous places, distracting and distancing us from God’s genuine presence.
In our protective zeal, however, something important gets lost. We can forget to pause and remember that God was actually in this place, doing things only He could do. In this sense, certain places can provide meaningful memorials and reminders of His goodness and faithfulness.
One of the most obvious areas where such places can be found is the so-called, “Holy Land,” where Abraham sojourned, David reigned, and Jesus lived, died, and rose again. When the Israelites entered into this land by miraculously crossing the Jordan River on dry ground, God directed stones from the riverbed to be erected as a memorial to what He had done there. It was intended to be an important teaching tool for future generations to remember His powerful kindness. Such commemorative spaces can help us recapture, reenact, and reimagine all that God has done, reminding us to give Him thanks and praise.
But we also must remember that Moses only stood on holy ground because God was there, not because of any holiness inherent to that place. Spaces do not become or remain sacred in-and-of-themselves. They become sacred when God sets them apart by His presence and power. This was especially the case with respect to the Holy of Holies, the temple’s inner sanctum. It was only holy because God was there. And as a result, it was not to be entered without holy fear and humble reverence, lest that person be struck down by God’s righteous indignation.
Sadly, this sacred space would itself become an idol. God’s people began taking Him for granted, repeatedly rejecting and rebelling against Him. Eventually, when God had finally had enough, He left the Holy of Holies. He allowed it to be desecrated by foreign invaders and permanently dismantled by the Romans in AD 70. It was not sacred in-and-of-itself. It was only sacred because God chose to dwell there in a very special way.
Similarly, there’s nothing inherently extraordinary about the 10’X10’ fourth-story slab suspended by concrete and rebar that constituted my office for over twelve years. Nevertheless, I thank God for visiting and using this blessed little cube in the sky for His greater glory. Much more than this, I long for and look forward to living in that place Jesus promises to prepare for us, a space that will always be sacred and never taken away since we will dwell there for endless days in His magnificent and marvelous presence.