30 May 2012

The Earth is God’s Temple

forestIn the Old Testament we find the idea that the true sanctuary of God, the place where he meets with humans, is the earth itself. The idea can be found in the portrayal of  Eden as a royal garden, where God as king meets with Adam and Eve. But it is much clearer in the construction of the tabernacle as a model of the Edenic ideal of the earth. The parallels between the building of the earth in Genesis 1 and 2 and the building of the tabernacle in Exodus 25-31 are clear (for example the six words to Moses, in 25:1; 30:11,17,22,34; 31:1 followed by the Sabbath command in 31:12). Within the temple, animals and plants are represented (goats, acacia wood, porpoises) and the menorah as a tree of light is carved with blossoms, bulbs and flowers (25:31f). When Solomon builds the Temple, he has palm trees and flowers carved on all of the walls and doors (1 Kgs 6:29,32,35). The parallel is clear to the Psalmist:

And He built His sanctuary like the heights, Like the earth which He has founded forever. (Ps 78:69)

In the OT, the Temple is the perfect expression of the LORD’s sanctuary – an Edenic space – but the earth itself, although fallen, is still God’s tabernacle in the faith of Israel:

The voice of the LORD makes the deer to calve And strips the forests bare; And in His temple everything says, "Glory!" (Ps 29:9)

The temple is an expression of the Edenic ideal: a parcel of sacred ground where the Fall is reversed, where humans can meet God and worship without the barrier of sin and rebellion, through the atoning sacrifices. The prophets foresee that this is only a temporary state of affairs. The tabernacle-temple is a statement of intent: the LORD plants on earth a small, perfect cube of space as an expression of the goal of his redemption.

This helps us to understand the theological significance of the tearing of the temple curtain in the Gospels, immediately after the death of Jesus. So often interpreted as a sign that humans can now go in to worship God, the true significance is that the Edenic presence of God is no longer within this Jerusalem temple. The redemptive programme is now expanding. The vision of the prophets for the earth to be filled with the glory of the Lord is set in motion through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God is present with his people in all the earth, wherever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ, Eden is partially reconstituted in anticipation of the fulfilment of the redemptive programme.

Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. (Gen 2:9-10)

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb,
in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:1-2)