Friday, December 23, 2011

Another Temple for God?

This is what the Lord says:  Are you the one to build me a temple to live in?  I have never lived in a temple, from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until now.  My home has always been a tent, moving from one place to another.  And I have never once complained to Israel's leaders, the shepherds of my people Israel.  I have never asked them, "Why haven't you built me a beautiful cedar temple?"    --  2 Samuel 7:5-7

David wanted to make God a permanent temple, but God said he has never been fixed in one spot.  God never asked to be confined to one place.  In fact, he reminded David, he has always come and gone as he chose.  Even when Solomon built a temple for God, it was not intended to confine God to a single space.  For a long time, people were able to worship God in multiple places.  However, after the fall of Solomon's Temple, and after the return of the exiles, even more pressure was put upon the people to look at the Second Temple as God's sole habitation.  With the greatest intentions possible, these returning exiles thought this was what God wanted.  It wasn't until the Second Temple was completely destroyed that the Jewish people had to discover all over again that God could be found in multiple places.

Christians knew that God could be found anywhere, for Jesus had shown them this truth in many different ways.  The Kingdom of God is near, it is within, and it is available to all.  However, somewhere along the way, certainly within the last few hundred years, Christians began to think that God was confined to Scripture.  Just as the ancient Jews viewed the Second Temple, many Christians began to view the Bible as the only place to find God.

What happened?  Did God ask to be confined to one book?  I don't think so.  For Jesus himself said that he could not possibly tell us all we needed to know about God.  In fact, he told us that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide us into all future truth (John 16:16-17), which certainly conveys the understanding that God will remain active in the world.  

In the beginning of the Christian era, when influential Christian writings began to be collected, this canon of books was never thought to confine God any more than Solomon's Temple did.  However, in the last few hundred years, scholars have been probing deeply into the history of the writings of the books of the Bible.  Among other things, they have discovered multiple "hands" involved in the Books of Moses, and they have pointed out differences between versions of the same story.    Instead of embracing this expansion of our understanding of Scripture, or ignoring these insights as not making a wit of difference to our personal experience of God, some more conservative Christians viewed these efforts as attacks on God himself.  In response, they raised the authority of the Bible to an higher plane than it was originally intended.  The Bible has now come to be viewed by many as the inerrant word of God, in which every "tittle and jot" is God-breathed.  To question anything in the Bible is to question God.  To be truly faithful, they say, you must believe that all of it comes directly from God.  Well, to many, the result is a falling away from God.
What I wonder, is whether all these efforts to humanize the Bible have actually been inspired by God.  Just as I wonder if the destruction of the Second Temple was actually necessary in order for the Jews to understand that God was not, and had never been, confined to the Temple.  For the way we look at the Bible mirrors the way the ancient Israelites looked at the Temple.  The historical pattern is the same.  The more we make "the thing" equivalent to God, the more it comes under attack; and the more it comes under attack, the more we cling to it as if it is our God.  Unfortunately, for the Temple, the cycle only ended when the "thing" was completely destroyed. 

God wants to be God, alone.  He wants us to make nothing into an idol of worship.  And yet anything, God-created or man-made, becomes an idol when we think it contains God.

As Thomas Merton, wrote: "God speaks to us in three places:  in Scripture, in our deepest selves, and in the voice of the stranger."  ("World Religions", Huston Smith, pg. 390).  In my experience, this is certainly true -- although I would perhaps change "stranger" to "neighbor", because I believe God uses whomever he wants to use to convey his messages to us.  The writers of the books of the Bible certainly found God in many places.  For many of them, God was an active presence in their lives. Just as God is an active presence in our lives today, whether we realize this or not.   He is not confined to a single book anymore than he was confined to a single place. 

The Bible is good, very good, but it is not God.

Dear Heavenly Father, please keep me in you and you in me, always, but especially during this time of many comings and goings.  Help me to take the time to thank you for all you have done for the world.  Love always, Pam

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