Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Containing God

Our ancestors had the tent of testimony in the wilderness, as God directed when he spoke to Moses, ordering him to make it according to the pattern he had seen. ... And it was there until the time of David, who found favor with God and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the house of Jacob.  But it was Solomon who built a house for him.  Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says, 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool.  What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest?  Did not my hand make all these things?   -- from Acts 7:44-52

This morning I was wondering why some Christians think that the only place to learn about God is in the Bible.  The Bible, accordingly, is God's only representative on Earth.

But if that is true, then how did the earliest people who are written about in the Bible, such as Abraham and Moses and Samuel, learn about God?  None of these men had the Bible to refer to.  And how did anyone have the temerity to add the Psalms of David, and the Proverbs to the original books of Moses?  Paul didn't know he was writing Scripture when he wrote to the Corinthians.   And when Paul tells Timothy to "continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus," as he does in his Second Letter to Timothy (v.14-15), he wasn't including this letter as part of those sacred writings.  Clearly this letter to Timothy hadn't been written when Timothy was a child!

My point is that from the very beginning and until the Bible was canonized, and even a little after that, Scripture was a growing and evolving entity.  For thousands of years, as man's understanding of God grew, inspired writings became part of Scripture.  When did it become acceptable to think that God's inspired word could be contained in a single book?  Practically speaking, it helps to have God's word in a single, somewhat-easy-to-carry book, but speaking spiritually, there is no way to contain God in any book.  Or anything else, for that matter.

I was struck by the similarity between my thinking about the Bible and Stephen's words about the Temple in today's readings.  The Temple started out as the tent of testimony, and over time it grew and evolved into a house for God.  Once the Temple was built, and even after it was destroyed and built again, Jews looked at the Temple as the only place where God resided.  Jesus, however, taught that God would now be worshiped "in spirit and truth."  For those who believed Jesus, God would not be contained in any one place or thing.

Stephen tells the Jews that God is not contained in the Temple.  All of heaven and earth belong to God.  Why would he be confined to this man-made container, even though inspired by God in the first place?  God never asked to be contained in a house.  What house could ever contain God? 

Similarly, God is not contained in the Bible.  Why would God be confined inside this man-made container, even though inspired by God in the first place, when all of heaven and earth belong to him?  God never asked to be contained in a single book.  What book could ever contain God?

So why would anyone believe that God stopped inspiring people nearly 2000 years ago?  Is that belief promoted anywhere in the Bible itself?

Dear God, please help me convey the richness of your history with us as your children.  We have continually been inspired by you and have continually been open to your will for us in each and every age of the past and into the present day.  As you will always inspire us with each new day that comes.  Love always, Pam

1 comment:

Pamela Keane said...

I read this passage in yesterday's lectionary, and it fit so well with the posting above that I thought I'd add it here:

"But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; your name endures to all generations. ...Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will endure; they will all wear out like a garment. You change them like clothing, and they pass away; but you are the same, and your years have no end." Ps. 102:12, 25-27