When I read the word “refuge,” a picture comes to mind of a strong stone castle standing on a massive rock island. The island is surrounded by a deep dark moat and can only be crossed by means of a drawbridge, which is currently pulled up against the only door of the castle. The lone door is constructed of many layers of rough hewn lumber and appears, for all practical purposes, impenetrable. On the side of the moat next to the castle there is a small strip of land that is covered with lush green grass, fruit trees, and many types of berry bushes. On the far shore of the moat, however, the ground is mainly mud and rocks, and what little grass is there is brown. Standing on the muddy edge of the moat and extending far into the distance in all directions around the tower are innumerable enemy soldiers yelling and clanging their swords against their shields. Inside the tower a king sits at the head of a long banquet table laden with sumptuous food for his many guests to freely eat. Servants are smiling as they are carrying golden trays of food and silver flagons of wine to the table. Laughter fills the hall and no one seems to care about the massive army arrayed against them just a few hundred yards away.
If someone were to paint this picture (and I hope someone does) I think the contrasts would be striking. I imagine the enemy soldiers would be painted in dark drab colors wearing torn garments, with bloodied hands and snarling lips. The look on each soldiers face would be much like that seen on ravenous dogs when, after a week of starvation, they finally are given some meat. The sky behind and above the soldiers would be full of dark clouds out of which bolts of lightning are striking the distant landscape setting tree and grass on fire.
As to the castle, both inside and out, bright colors would be used. The king would be dressed in royal robes of red and purple. He would be wearing a crown and holding a jewel-encrusted scepter. All the rooms of the castle would be decorated with similar colors signifying that this castle was the palace of the king. The furniture would be warm and inviting, draped with intricate and exotic blankets and pillows. The floor would be slate upon which many beautiful rugs are thrown, and the walls would be covered with tapestries chronicling the many past conquests of the king.
The many guests would clearly be enjoying themselves whether they were seated or standing around the table with the king, sitting on the floors at the edge of the room, or in other locations throughout the keep. They would be sampling the many delicacies, laughing, and conversing with their fellow guests: every occupant of the castle would seem to be living without a care in the world. But if you looked closely enough, you would see a small group of people huddled together before the king, faces filled with fear, looking as though they had just arrived at the castle seeking the king’s protection. And even though they are surrounded by scenes of joy, peace, and celebration, it would be clear that their minds were consumed by their seemingly impending doom.
The dinner guests immediately surrounding these petitioners, however, would have a look on their faces as though they knew better. Their faces would form knowing smiles as they were once in the same position: on their knees and pleading for protection. In fact, every guest in the castle would have the look of one who had once thrown themselves at the feet of the king. But instead of desperation in their eyes, a look of joyful anticipation would betray their knowledge of the King’s certain and imminent extension of grace, a grace that no matter how hard each guest may have tried, it could not be earned for it was freely given to any who asked.
Yes, I think that’s what comes to my mind when I read the word “refuge.” (Did I tell you I have an active imagination?) But it’s only a word, isn’t it? Surely there is no place like this where any person can freely come and place themselves at the feet of a king. Surely there is no place where one can do nothing to merit that king’s protection. Surely there is no castle built on a massive rock surrounded by life-giving water and protected by a single strong wooden door keeping throngs of evil-doers at bay. Surely a place such as that does not exist.
Oh, I almost forgot. Did I mention what I would title the painting should someone ever paint it? I would title it His Righteousness.