For the first half of this week or so I served at a camp for preteens in remote Central Oregon some half an hour east of the town of Prineville. The camp located there, which was being used by our church group for the first time, had originally been a reformatory school for wayward teenagers. The location of the school that had been built there was quite strategic in nature, being so far remote from others that escape from the school would have been pointless, thus encouraging those students placed there by their parents to cope with the remoteness of the location and its lack of distractions from the outside world.
I cannot imagine most of the teens who were placed there during its days as a school were very happy to be there. The place is remote, and even in 2022 the site is miles away from cell phone service. Those of us who were there basically dropped off the face of the earth for a few days, and I know that I had to explain to quite a few of my own friends that I was alright when I returned to civilization, as it were. Yet my own feelings about the camp were in general positive. It was easy to walk around from one location to another, an important consideration personally speaking, the food was great, the scenery lovely, and so on. I am not sure that I would have had the same feelings had it been a place of imprisonment, but the wilderness as a refuge feels a lot different when one looks at it from a different perspective.
What is it that determines our perspective? A great deal of our view of such things as the desirability of remoteness comes from choice. To the extent that we choose to go to remote places to enjoy them for specific purposes, the remoteness is not a problem and may indeed be a benefit. I come from a religious background where many like-minded people of our faith tradition spent many centuries living in remote locations seeking refuge from tyrannical religious authorities, and such locations are a refuge in times of great crisis and trouble like our own. It was a pleasure not to hear about the sordid details of life for at least a few days–I heard plenty of it when I came back to my normal existence. Yet those who do not choose to live in the wilderness and view it as a place of imprisonment and boredom rather than a place of refuge are not going to view such locations the same way.
What lends a certain degree of importance and relevance to the question of the wilderness as a place of refuge comes from those of us who have an interest in both biblical history and prophecy. In the past, the wilderness served as the incubation place for ancient Israel after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, and they were a rather whiny sort of people who did not appreciate the wilderness and its purposes for God’s plan. In stark contrast, when we look at the history of the early church, its appreciation of refuge from the troubles of the first and second centuries appears to have been much more positive, at least from such record as we have. And we can expect that those of us who are fortunate enough to find refuge during the Great Tribulation will appreciate the wilderness as a refuge from the horrors inflicted upon the world during the last days before the return of Jesus Christ. May we be counted worthy to enter into that refuge.