Friday, April 15, 2016

Is he there?

Heaven is not eternal in the sense that God is. It is, if you will, the dimension of creation that serves as an interface between God and the rest of creation. As such, even though biblical writers will regularly speak of God dwelling in and ruling from heaven they are also aware that God is “bigger” than heaven. In fancy language, God transcends not only the earth but heaven itself. As Solomon so beautifully put it in his prayer at the dedication of the spectacular temple he had built: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth [in this temple]? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kgs 8:27).

The paradox of God’s dwelling in the temple in Jerusalem captures in a scaled-down way this same tension. The Bible holds together the idea that God dwells in the Jerusalem temple with a resistance to the idea that God’s presence can be contained there. God’s presence is everywhere, even outside the Promised Land, even to the ends of the earth, and even in sheol! More than that, God’s presence is in heaven, while the temple is on earth. So while God’s presence is in the temple, it is not there in quite the same way that it is in heaven.

Some texts speak obliquely of the temple as “the place that Jehovah your God will choose to make his name dwell” (Deut 26:2). This way of speaking beautifully captures the balance. It speaks of God’s real presence in the temple (for in ancient thinking the name of a person is profoundly connected to the person; it was no mere label) while at the same time pushing against a simplistic understanding of that presence. There is a subtle distance inserted between God and the temple in the very words that speak of his dwelling in it—he causes his name to dwell there. Israel’s theologians are seeking to speak of the reality of God’s presence but also of the way in which God’s presence is unlike any other presence. Words fail when God is the topic under discussion.— The Biblical Cosmos, page 135 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
I've been gone for the last week (in case you didn't notice!); we were visiting kids and grandkids. I also had the privilege to teach for two days on the ancient Near Eastern backgrounds to the Old Testament. This excerpt from Robin's book nicely encapsulates much of what I was trying to teach.
</idle musing>

No comments: