9 Pentecost, July 22
“Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent’” (2 Sam. 7:1-2). Settled and living in peace, King David has time and resources to do something for God. But does God need something from King David? Has God asked for a house? “I have not lived in a house,” says the Lord, “since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle” (2 Sam. 7:6). The God who moves over the face of the waters is not contained or constrained by space or time. God will be where he will be with all the intensity he desires, and yet he is everywhere and everywhere undivided. God is not confined to a tent or a tabernacle or a house. God is pure spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.
In time, God allows a temple to be built by David’s son, King Solomon, and God allows synagogues and churches as signposts of the divine presence. God allows beautiful places and beautiful art and the majesty of science to open windows into the mystery of divine life. Still, every place dedicated to God, every piece of sacred art, every human work is not God. God alone is God. God is not a human projection.
Here a stiff dose of Calvinism mixed with a strain of Catholic austerity is a potent corrective to the danger of idolatry. “Nothing which they may attempt to offer in the way of worship or obedience,” says Calvin, “can have any value in his sight, because it is not him they worship, but, instead of him, the dream and figment of their own heart.” “Like water gushing forth from a large and copious spring, immense crowds of gods have issue from the human mind” (Institutes, cap. 1-5). Commenting on the ascent of Moses to the holy mountain, Gregory of Nyssa writes in a very different time and context, “He that is going to associate intimately with God must go beyond all that is visible, and (lifting up his own mind, as to a mountaintop, to the invisible and incomprehensible) believe that that the divine is there where the understanding does not reach” (Life of Moses, 46). God reveals the truth in Christ and that truth is inexhaustible. Strangely, real knowledge of God is the knowledge of what is unknown, or what can never be fully known.
Does God want a house? “You are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (Eph. 2:19-22). We are the dwelling place of God, but we do not limit God. We are the praying community, but our community is not God. We speak of God, but God is beyond human speech and speculation. God is high and lifted up, a mystery we touch by faith, not by sight.
Speaking to his disciples after they reported all they had done and taught, Jesus advised that they “Come away to a deserted place … and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Rest in the restless knowledge that God is beyond all knowing.
Look It Up
Read Psalm 23
Think About It
Ascend above images.