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~ The Many Houses of God, Part
"I lift up my eyes to the hills -- where does my
help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth"
(Psalm 121: 1-2).
"Maker of heaven and earth" is an excellent credential for our Helper,
is it not? It's a perfect one-line resume for anyone offering services in
any field. Where, however, would this Maker possibly live? What is His address?
King David vowed that he would not rest until "I find a place for the Lord"
(Psalm 132:5a). Yet, God, through the prophet Isaiah, exclaimed, "Heaven
is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build
for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?" (Isaiah 66:1-2).
Ancient Athens built many temples to their numerous deities. Fearing they
would forget one and risk his anger and retribution, they established an
altar in the name of "An Unknown God" (see Acts 17:23). Picking up on this,
St. Paul explained to an Athenian council, "Now what you worship as something
unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything
in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built
by hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life
and breath and everything else...For in him we live and move and have our
being. As some of your poets have said, 'We are his offspring' " (Acts 17:23b-28).
Of interest is the Cretan poet, Epimenides (600 B.C.), who wrote, "In him
we live and move and have our being" (in the Cretica). Paul was an
expert on Jewish and Levitical law and a scholar of Roman and Greek literature
and philosophy, quoting many of the Greek poets and writers to establish
a rapport with the Gentile nations.
Let's not overlook the significance of Paul declaring to unconverted,
pantheistic people how "we" all live in Him, move, breathe and exist in
Him, the Maker of heaven and earth. "When you take away their breath, they
die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth" (Psalm 104:29b-30). Paul also wrote,
"He [Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together"
(Colossians 1:17b). And, "For the creation was subjected to frustration,
not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope
that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and
brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the
whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to
the present time" (Romans 8:20-22).
One does not hear these verses discussed with any frequency or depth probably
because many preachers and teachers fear to tread into the risky area of
what may be viewed as pantheism. Our universal acceptance of the belief in
God's omnipresence means we agree that there is no place in the visible and
invisible creation to which one could point and declare "God isn't there."
If there was such a place, that would mean God was not infinite and omnipresent.
Furthermore, such a place could not exist because our scriptures are clear
on how all things, breathing and non-breathing, are "held together" or congealed
into existence by the Creator. In His absence, they would evaporate into nothingness
such as, by His word (thought), they came into existence out of nothingness.
We can now reconsider a well-known proclamation in the Psalms: "Where
can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go
up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths ["Sheol"
or hell in Hebrew], you are there...If I say, 'Surely the darkness will
hide me and the light become night around me,' even the darkness will not
be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light
to you" (Psalm 139: 7-8, 11-12). Regardless of the possible layers of meaning
of "darkness," there is no hiding place from our Creator in all creation,
even in what we consider to be its dark places and elements.
The above verses are typically regarded as reassuring to those who feel
estranged from God, and as a wake up call to those who want to elude any
judgment or admonishment by our Maker. Yet there is another consideration
Even those of us who believe the scriptures and the irrefutable logic
they support, how God must be present in every single atom in every single
grain of sand and every discrete quantum unit of energy else they cease
to exist, do also acknowledge the difference between His presence in a rock
or tree and His presence in His chosen temple. Astoundingly and delightfully,
our Maker chose us as temples of His Spirit. "Don't you know that you yourselves
are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16,
see also 6:19).
Given that, indeed "Where can I flee from your Spirit? Where can I flee
from your presence? [In] the heavens, you are there; [in] the depths [of
Sheol], you are there." That's not because God is pursuing me as though I
was separate from Him, but rather because He inexplicably chose to live within
me. Wherever I go, He goes too. That's why Paul cautions us on where we
go and what we do with and to our bodies. They are sacred indeed, not due
to any physical disciplines we may practice such as diet and exercise, but
rather to pure grace for which we cannot take any credit...the grace of
God's humble and loving desire to make them temples of His presence.
God's choice is unconditional. He does not prefer the bodies of any particular
race over another. He chooses the bodies that are overweight, disordered,
diseased, addicted, afflicted, youthful and old. Our brains are part of our
bodies and He doesn't discriminate between those either. Intelligent and
effectively active, organically damaged or undeveloped, our Maker also chooses
to inhabit all of them with equal delight.
King David's body was in the greatest of shape, taking down human behemoths
like Goliath and wild animals as well. King Solomon was the most wise of
people, exercising knowledge in the sciences, engineering, law, psychology
and the ways of God. But their bodies and brains were subjected to St. Paul's
elaboration of Jesus' remark to His most intimates: "The spirit is willing,
but the flesh is weak." Paul wrote, "I do not understand what I do. For what
I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do...Now if I do what I do not
want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does
it...For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law
['principle' in the Greek, 'disorder' in modern psychology] at work in the
members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a
prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members" (Romans 7:15, 20, 22-23).
King David, whom God called "a person after His own heart," committed
sins of adultery, deceit, murder and betrayal, which inspired his penitential
Psalm 51. In all his wisdom, King Solomon fell into deep depravity, writing
the book of Ecclesiastes, which I personally find rather depressing with its
prevailing theme that "all is vanity." If "vanity" is taken into its current
English meaning, he just may be right, since so much of all we do and strive
to present to the world in our appearances in the name of producing a "good
testimony" is, in fact, egotistically driven vanity. Thank God He chooses
to "look into our hearts" and not our physical and emotional presentation
to the world.
(To appreciate a fuller meaning of this Reflection, please continue with
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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