Friday, March 11, 2011

Being in the Presence of God

God, in Christian theology, becomes present to humanity in the person of Jesus. In the words of John, “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). In Jesus, God has walked in our shoes, tasting life as we live it, tasting death as we do. Even temptation did not pass God by, but Jesus remained faithful though having tasted life as we live it. Yes, in Jesus, God faced temptation as we do, but did not sin (Heb. 4:14-15). In the words of Paul, God humbled God’s self, in an act of self-emptying revelation. Not even death itself was withheld (Phil. 2:6-8). What transpired in the life of Jesus, God becoming manifest to humanity, is extended to us by the Spirit who makes the God known in Jesus present to all humanity.

Our assumption of God’s universal presence through the Spirit is humanized by the Christian belief that God became present to us in a person: “The Word became flesh and lived among us” (Jn. 1:14). The question remains: How is God present to me as a child of God? Scripture gives us at least two important ways of understanding God’s “particularized” presence with us. One means of the Spirit’s presence is corporate – in the church – but this does not mean the Spirit is not present to us as individuals. Help can be found to understand both the corporate and individual dimensions of God’s presence in the image of the Temple.

Ancient Judaism believed that God’s presence dwelt in the Tabernacle/Temple. The Ark of the Covenant was understood to be carrying God’s presence, God’s kabod or glory. This kabod or glory is what made the Temple holy. In Rabbinic Judaism the concept of the Shekinah emerged to describe God’s specific, self-willed presence in the world (immanence). Taking this understanding of the particularized presence of God, the kabod or the Shekinah to heart, we can better understand the New Testament concept of the church being the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21-22). They also help us understand the image of the human body being a “temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, saying: “or do you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Although this particular passage speaks to the issue of sexual morality, the idea that the body is a temple of the Spirit suggests that God’s Spirit is present in the world wherever God’s people are present. Therefore, even as the Ark of the Covenant provides blessing to those who faithfully came into contact with it (1 Sam. 5:1- 7:2) -- and a word of judgment on those who seek to deny the Spirit’s presence – when the Spirit indwelt people of God are present, blessing is possible. This means that the Spirit’s ministry takes place not just within the church walls, but wherever the “temple” (the body) is present.

An excerpt from Gifts of Love (a book in process).

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