Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Heaven of Heavens Cannot Contain Thee

"The holiness of life is obscured to modern Christians also by the idea that the only holy place is the built church. This idea may be more taken for granted than taught; nevertheless, Christians are encouraged from childhood to think of the church building as 'God's house,' and most of them could think of their houses or farms or shops or factories as holy places only with great effort and embarrassment. It is understandably difficult for modern Americans to think of their dwellings and workplaces as holy, because most of these are, in fact, places of desecration, deeply involved in the ruin of Creation.
The idea of the exclusive holiness of church buildings is, of course, wildly incompatible with the idea, which the churches also teach, that God is present in all places to hear prayers. It is incompatible with Scripture. The idea that a human artifact could contain or confine God was explicitly repudiated by Solomon in his prayer at the dedication of the Temple: 'Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee: how much less this house that I have builded?' (1 Kings 8:27) And these words of Solomon were remembered a thousand years later by Saint Paul, preaching at Athens: 

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands . . . For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said. Acts 17:24 and 28

Idolatry always reduces to the worship of something 'made with hands,' something confined within the terms of human work and human comprehension. Thus, Solomon and Saint Paul both insisted on the largeness and the at-largeness of God, setting Him free, so to speak, from ideas about Him. He is not to be fenced in, under human control, like some domestic creature; . . . Jesus' own specifications for his church have nothing at all to do with masonry and carpentry but only with people; his church is 'where two or three are gathered together in my name' (Matthew 18:20)."

Wendell Berry's essay, "Christianity and the Survival of Creation," in Sex, Economy, Freedom & Communitypp. 100-01

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