Évangile et Liberté
Translation Canon Tony Dickinson
To ask the question about God’s dwelling is to think already of God as a being who, in the image of simple creatures, would need to land somewhere in order to be at home there. It is to think that God inhabits a particular space where we have opportunities to meet him. It is to think that God must be a being like us, while being above us, more powerful, wiser, and more just. So we have difficulty in getting rid of this idea that God must be a person and therefore localisable.
“Show me where you live and I will tell you who you are”, says the proverb. Because curiosity about the dwelling of God is a way of trying to pierce the mystery of God himself: How does he exist? How does he live? With whom? What space does he take up? From where does he guide the world? What means of action does he have at his disposal? What does he see of us?
God lives in heaven
For the Hebrews of the Old Testament, but also for the gospels, God lives in heaven. As the famous prayer says: “Our Father who art in heaven”. Because it is from heaven that light and warmth come; but also because heaven is this mystery which we cannot comprehend, which overtakes us and dominates us completely. Above all for the ancients it is impenetrable and inexplicable. Far from us through its immensity, but near us because it comes down to the earth, shapes it and embraces it. This is indeed what the Bible tells us; in for example Isaiah 66 which proclaims that heaven is the throne of God, but that from heaven, God regards the humiliated person who has a weary spirit. It is not astonishing that God has made it his dwelling. He hides in what is inaccessible and unknowable. And he hides in heaven which comes down so far as to touch human beings in affliction.
God lives in his sanctuary
Also the people of Israel wanted to shut God up in more accessible places. And religious institutions have always been tempted to place him inside their walls so that they can say that he was with them, that on these grounds they were divinely inspired and that therefore people had to submit themselves to their truth. Shut up in the tabernacles of synagogues and churches, God had to do nothing more than to let be and to submit to what was expected of him.
God lives in man
Happily Paul, who caused new-born Christianity to leave Jerusalem, has another vision of the dwelling of God when he exclaims in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God?” Paul turns the understanding of God upside down: it is no longer human beings who enters the house of God, but God who enters the house of human beings. From now on it is you who are the dwelling of God, who give him refuge, who protect him, who allow him to love, to express himself and to act. You are indwelt by God himself.
We find the same humanity of God in this sentence of John the evangelist (14:23):
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word and my Father will love him. We will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
This God of John’s gospel is touching. He comes to live with mortals and share their daily life. He does not dominate us from the height of heaven; he lives with us if we want to live indeed the words of Jesus. A cohabitation, in a way, that allows each morning the shared vision of how the day can be organized around these words.
At the time of the centenary of the title of our monthly (27th January 2013), rabbi Pauline Bebe quoted an interesting sentence of the Israeli philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965) which is close to John’s:
“God lives there where he is made to enter.”
For the philosopher, therefore, it is up to the individual to prepare a dwelling for God. The place of God will be the one people make for him. He does not impose himself from outside as a proof, or as a transcendent force, or as the fruit of a revelation. He does not of himself extend his hold over the world. He settles in because human beings have come looking for him, because they have needed him. God is a response to an invitation, to a call. It is human beings who ask God into the city.
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