Psalm 124; 1 Kings 7:34–8:16; John 14:1–14

Originally published 11/13/2016. Revised and updated 11/13/2018.

Psalm 124: This psalm gratefully explores the hypothesis of what would have happened had God not been watching over and protecting Israel:
Were it not for the Lord Who was for us
—let Israel now say—
were it not for the Lord Who was for us
when people rose against us,
then they would have swallowed us alive
when their wrath flared hot against us. (1-3)

Our psalmist goes on describing the awful things that could have happened:
Then the waters would have swept us up,
the torrent come up past our necks
. (4)

When we are feeling discouraged and thinking that God is absent or we have prayed for something that has not come to pass the way we would have liked, this psalm is a stark reminder of what our circumstances might have been had God not been there “for us.” We are protected from disaster in ways we so often fail to appreciate. It’s entirely conceivable that we just barely escaped some awful consequence, just as the psalmist has it:
Our life is like a bird escaped
from the snare of the fowlers
.
The snare was broken
and we escaped.
” (8)

This idea of narrow escapes because God is protecting us is worth reflecting on in light of the awful fires in California. Many have escaped total devastation, although a few haven’t. Was God there for those who escaped? What about those who didn’t? Only God knows. Regardless of what has happened we know one thing stands sure and true:
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
maker of heaven and earth.
 (8)

Amen. God is sovereign and this reality reminds us that the affairs of we humans are mere ephemera in his eyes.

1 Kings 7:34–8:16: Our authors go on at extreme length describing the furnishings of Solomon’s temple. For me, the gigantic bronze basins and the huge “sea” are the most impressive objects: “each basin held forty baths, each basin measured four cubits; there was a basin for each of the ten stands.” (7:38) The gold lampstands are equally impressive. No detail was overlooked, right on down to “the sockets for the doors of the innermost part of the house, the most holy place, and for the doors of the nave of the temple, of gold.” (7:50)

Once the temple is finished, it is dedicated—something we still do for our own buildings and churches. The priests bring the Ark of the Covenant into the Holy of Holies “in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim.” (8:6) After all these years we finally get a clear statement of what the ark contained: “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt.” (8:9) Almost sort of anti-climatic…

All of this is quite pleasing to God, and “the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” (8:11) As far as Solomon is concerned, this magnificent temple will be God’s dwelling place for all time:
The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.
   I have built you an exalted house,
    a place for you to dwell in forever.” (8:13)

Given this sign of God’s presence, Solomon begins his dedicatory speech by observing that God “has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to my father David.” (8:15)

What’s fascinating to me is how our perception of God has evolved from Solomon’s time. While God is omnipresent and omnipotent, for Israel God apparently resides in one place and that is the temple. (Which is pretty similar to other temple cults of that day and later, e.g. the Romans.)

Now of course we tend to think of God as being everywhere, which can too easily lead us into a vaporous pantheism. I think this reading is instructive, reminding us that while God transcends time and space in ways we cannot understand, God also operates in real time and real space. And that at this moment that is the temple at Jerusalem. Jesus’ incarnation is God entering into the world into real time and space, but it is his church that transcends time (the “clouds of witnesses” down through time of Hebrews 11) and also space just as Christianity certainly transcends the boundaries of Jerusalem.

John 14:1–14: We arrive at the chapters 14 through 17 known as the Upper Room Discourse. Jesus opens by say  reminding his disciples (and us) for the umteenth time that it’s all about belief: “Believe in God, believe also in me.” (1)

Jesus makes it clear that “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (2) and that he’s going on ahead to prepare a place for them—and by implication, for us. So what are these ‘dwelling places’ and at what level of abstraction do they exist? The traditional interpretation is that they are places in heaven and that every believer will be accommodated there. But another read might be that God, being God, has a variety of ways—the various dwelling places— in which humans can approach and be with God.

Be that as it may, as far as his disciples [and therefore all of us] are concerned, there is but one way, and that is through Jesus as he famously intones, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (6) This verse has led to many asserting that Jesus is the exclusive way to heaven and all other “ways” lead only to dead ends. Personally, I’m not so sure. Jesus does not address that actual subject and we make our conclusions based on what may be incomplete information. Remember, this verse exists in the context of “many dwellings.” Also, as Jesus has been saying for the last several chapters, he and the Father are effectively one: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” (10)

Clearly, if we hear Jesus’ message and believe that what he says is true, this is how we come to God. But if we have not heard that message are we doomed? Many Christians believe this is absolutely true but I think they are using human logic which is not necessarily God’s logic. If God is a God of love, can this exclusivity and implied condemnation of all others really hold? In the end I think Jesus is expressing a concept that we cannot fully grasp. There is something else going on here, but I really have no idea what it is. Nor do I think theologians and preachers have as firm a grip on this verse as they may think they do.

 

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