WHERE DOES GOD LIVE?
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19, Psalm 24, Mark 6:14-15
July 12, 2009
Mrs. Thomson’s Sunday School class was discussing the house of God. Jenny’s hand went up. She said, “God lives in a big house in Montreal. It’s a church called Notre Dame. That’s where Celine Dionne got married.” But Bobby thought God lived in the bathroom. “Why?” asked Mrs. Thomson. “Every morning, Dad stands in front of the bathroom and shouts, “My God, are you still there?” You may think that Jenny and Bobby were funny and they were wrong. But you really can not laugh at them, because grown-ups make the same kind of silly mistakes too.
There are so many people who believe that God lives in the church building or some place like Jerusalem. That’s the only way we can understand why so many people throughout history spent so much money on the church buildings; cathedrals and basilica. Not only that, they fought over those church buildings, , even killed each other. They thought those buildings were as important as God himself. Speaking about the place God is supposed to live, think of the way people of different faiths fight over the Holy Land in the Middle East shedding blood. God does not live in the Middle East only. They are all wrong. We should know that God does not live in just a brick and stone building or at one place. God is everywhere.
The idea of where God is has changed over the years, even among the people who wrote the Bible. The earliest writing in the Bible about where God lives is in the Book of Genesis. God was described as an old man who could not stand the heat of the day and strolled in the cool evening breeze in the garden of Eden. As the time went by, the ideas changed and God became a spirit like a wind not an old man. Jesus said, “Nobody has seen God, because God is spirit.” Spirit comes and goes like a wind. We know God is there, but nobody know where he comes from and where he goes, and when. In fact, the word for spirit in the Bible is the same word as wind or breath in both Hebrew and Greek. What this is saying is that depending on how one sees God should look like, the idea of where God lives has changed over the years. Some people believe the Bible word by word as facts. They don’t like me talking like this. I don’t mind if people believe that the every word in the Bible is a historical fact, it’s their business. But I for one and many others see the Bible as a precious record of people’s search for God, in a form of made up stories, poems, and metaphors. So I believe that people made wrong assumptions in the process.
By the time Moses appeared, humans had invented letters and characters to write words. So when God told humans to live according to the basic rules of behaviours, Moses wrote them down on two slabs of stone. They are called ten commandments, because there were ten basic moral principles God wanted us to follow. So the Hebrew people thought that those stones on which God’s commandments were written were where God could be found. They made those two stones holy and put them in a box and called it “the Ark of God.” The story of the Old Testament which has been selected for today’s reading was about that box those holy stones were kept. People treated them as though God himself. Furthermore, the building that housed those stones was as important as the commandments, almost like God himself. They were not allowed even to touch the box. Now we know that such an idea is wrong. God does not live in the words nor a box that contains such words nor in the building that contains the box. Neither the Temple in Jerusalem nor the stones on which the Ten Commandments were written exist today . But God is with us because God is everywhere.
In fact, when King Solomon built a temple in Jerusalem, he realized that no matter how big and splendid the building was, God was too big to live in any building made by humans. So on the completion of the temple, he prayed, “But can you, oh God, really live anywhere on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven can not contain you, much less this house that I have built.”
Here appeared a new assumption, “heaven” as the place where God could be found. For a long time, God was thought to be “up there” in heaven. That’s why the writers of the Bible at some point began to speak about God who lived in heaven. Heaven became holy the same as God, because that was where they believed God lived. The problem is, nowadays we know the earth is round, and ‘up there’ in Canada is ‘down there’ in China. When the second Soviet astronaut went into the space during the sixties, he said, “I went up into the heaven, but I didn’t see God.” Of course, he didn’t. God does not live up there. He is everywhere.
Now back to the temple and the box that housed it. It is interesting that King David’s son, Solomon was able to build it, not King David. It was David who won many battles to bring the Box of Ten Commandments to Jerusalem. In our mind, it should have been David who had a privilege to build the temple, not his son who inherited his father’s achievements. The reason Solomon was given this honour was because, by the time Solomon was on the throne, there was unity among people, no more fighting. Because there was peace and unity among people, Solomon was able to undertake and complete such a big project. The temple was a symbol of unity, people of Israel stopped fighting among themselves and were able to cooperate in building a house of prayers. The temple made people come together, work together, and pray together. The building was the people’s house when peace and unity among them were achieved. The real church is possible where there is peace. We make mockery of God and ourselves when the church is divided. We come to church to hear the word and to pray together in peace and harmony, not to settle the score.
My wife and I went to Cluny in the Burgundy region of France two weeks ago and saw a ruin of then the biggest church in Christendom before St. Peter’s cathedral was built in Rome. It was so huge that even our city block looks smaller. The church was so powerful that one of the most powerful politicians in France like Cardinal Richelieu was once the Abbott of this church and the abbott of Cluny always had a palace in Paris. But today, it is a ruin. Only parts of the building are left to be dug out by archeologists. People destroyed it during the French Revolution in the eighteenth century, and took the stones away to build their own homes. The fury of the people’s anger against the church is unimaginable. The church must have been seen an oppressor and the enemy of people. They must have hated the church so much that they didn’t want anything of that church building left standing. It took years to demolish it. But people did it: made it completely devastated. The church is no house of God where there is no love and mercy; nor peace and harmony. Where there is peace among people of God, there is no need for a building, because God is everywhere.
God is everywhere. Most importantly, he lives within each one of us when we accept the spirit of Jesus Christ, and try to live according to his principle of love. This is the reason why Paul called our bodies the temple of God. This notion is the very basis of our moral principles. Because God lives within ourselves, we must keep ourselves clean and loving. Inevitably, a house collects dust and falls into disrepair. That’s normal; we don’t have to be ashamed of that. We clean it up from time to time. So look after ourselves, like mothers look after themselves for the babies and for themselves. When you look after yourselves, you are looking after God who lives with in. We must also be kind and nice to each other, because our friends and neighbours are also the temples of God. God is with us and in us.