I noticed today that Eugene Peterson chose a specific phrase when describing how God will dwell among the Israelites (2 Chronicles 6:12-18). Perhaps the first clue that these theological wanderings aren’t completely developed is that I’m using a translation like The Message as my starting point. But he says, “Is it true God will move into the neighborhood?”
This caught my eye because I recalled the same phrase being used in the New Testament when Peterson described Jesus’s arrival on earth. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14).
I’ve heard the typical phrases of “God came down” or “God descended” or “God dwelt among them” before, but until Peterson put his hip, old-man spin on it, I never made a connection. If there is a connection. But let’s pretend that there is for a moment. You know, just to see what happens.
So Solomon built a temple. It was his daddy’s deal, but since David had killed a few too many men in battle, he wasn’t allowed to see it’s completion (interesting, eh, the reasoning God had? What a Father-like thing to say. I hear it in the tone that I tell H he can’t play with stickers because he didn’t pick up yesterday). But Solomon takes the reigns, follows in his father’s faithful footsteps, takes years to procure all kinds of gold, silver, elaborate garments and such, and then has the temple built by the most skilled craftsmen around. They dedicate the Temple to God, and then God moves in and lives among them. God moves into the neighborhood. He’s there whenever you knock on the door. (I know you just started to sing the Three’s Company theme song*).
Fast forward, and Jesus arrives on the scene. John says, in Peterson-speak, he moved into the neighborhood. Old fashioned Bible talk says that he dwelt among us. Same idea.
So far, all very kosher with mainstream theology.
So, Solomon offered a somewhat normal building – though special to him because of the meaning – and God lived inside, and it became something more than normal. Holy. I mean, God lived there, so it’s no longer a normal, albeit very, very, large building. It wasn’t Solomon’s intention but God’s presence that changed what it was. However, Solomon’s intention kinda got the wheels moving in that direction. Solomon participated in what God did when making the temple. But without God, not possible. The presence of God changed how the building was used.
Then there’s Jesus. Oh, yesssss I am.
A somewhat normal man, in the sense that physically he lacked go-go-gadget arms or a need for a telephone booth to change into SuperJesus and get his powers. No, a man (theologians emphasize this). But because God lived inside, he became something more than normal. Holy. It wasn’t Jesus’ intention, his efforts, but God’s presence that changed who he was. Jesus was part of the equation – he participated in what God was doing, what being a willing sacrifice to all. The presence of God changed how his life was used.
I’m not trying to take away from Jesus’ holiness. His place is central to my thinking. But I don’t think Jesus’ rightful place as Savoir is the part where we sing a little soft.
But if what made Jesus the Son of God was the presence of God in his life, then what about us? Recalling how the Spirit descended and came to live among us, what does that mean for us? There’s plenty of New Testament language to support me here. I mean, saying that we are “temples of the Holy Spirit”, in light of Peterson’s phrase-ology**, takes on a whole new connection. We are also called “sons of God” through adoption. And because of God’s spirit in us, we will also rise from the dead. That’s mentioned more than once in the letters that floated around in the post-Jesus era.
Sometimes I wonder if we look past the element that God did this thing with Jesus so He could show us what it means that God lives in us. We think, “well what does a life with God even look like?” and God said, “well, let me show you with my boy here.” But somehow through the years we’ve come to think, well, but that’s Jesus
. He also rose from the dead. (I’ve mentioned this line of thinking before
But guess what? In our line of theology, we will as well. If we want to be like him in death, why aren’t we more like in him in life? I’m curious how the lives of believers would be changed if we suddenly discovered that our measure of post-life was directly tied to our current life of faith and our participation in what God is doing. Forgive me if I sound a little Rob Bell-ish here (and yes, I am finally reading his newest book. It was on the shelf at the library when I needed a new book, quickly. God all but ordered me to read it, right?). But I think he draws a bit of a valid point that we should be like him more in our life than just in our death.
Evangelical Christianity has a pretty high Christology, and that’s okay. He is central to our faith. But sometimes I think we view him like we did the popular girl in school and think, “but I could never be like that.” However, we fail to realize that what makes him who He is – the Spirit of God living and at work – is also available to us. (And I’m not even sure you could argue that we get a lower dose; Jesus said it only takes a mustard seed sized portion). We cop out and think that because we march in the band that we’re excused from living up to our full spiritual potential. We’re mere victims and drew the short straw when it came to spiritual prowess and therefore there’s no need to take adventurous steps of faith into the world of living in shalom, with [love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, self-control] because that takes effort and restraint and character and I’m just little ol’ me with nothing to offer***. But when it comes to rising from the dead, being eternally rewarded for believing the right things… well, yeah, I want in on that.
Somehow I don’t think Jesus would be highly inclined to validate that line of thinking.
So, at the heart of this all, I have to ask myself, How will I engage the Spirit of God that lives in me, today? How will I participate in what God is doing? How will I be more like Jesus in life rather just in death?
And it’s barely 8am. This could be quite a day.
*And what are the next 2 lines of that song? Everyone always reduces to mumble…
**Name that musical!
***And, now that I think of it, I think God was one step ahead of us in trying to prevent our excuses. In his infinite wisdom (quite literally), he chose someone from the sticks (“what good can come from Nazereth?”) and put him among the low men on the totum pole (shepherds, fishermen, tax collectors). But the human mind is a terrible thing to waste, so we come up with justifications for those things as well.