“Again and again in the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the prophets, and subsequent writings which derive from them, the claim is made that the creator of the entire universe has chosen to live uniquely on a small ridge called Mount Zion, near the eastern edge of the Judean hill country. The sheer absurdity of this claim, from the standpoint of any other worldview (not least that of Enlightenment philosophy) is staggering.”
– N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p. 247.
Did you realise this? It is easy to forget that God did make his home, firstly, in a nomadic tent (Exodus 40:35), then in a temple on Mount Zion (2 Chronicles 7:1). The eternal God actually dwelt there. To use Wright’s phrase, he chose to live uniquely on Mount Zion.
Even more staggering than that truth, though, is the Incarnation. We just finished celebrating this at Christmas time. God became man. John 1:14 says “And the Word [that is, Jesus Christ] became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Greek phrase “dwelt among us” is more literally translated as “pitched his tent.” The tabernacle, and the temples, were all types of the ultimate tabernacle – God pitching his tent among us. Jesus became a man, and in doing so, showed us the reality behind the shadows. He revealed the real meaning of the tabernacle and temples – God pitching his tent with man, in the incarnate Son.
Interesting post, Simon. Or should I say, “Interesssting…. very interesting.”
Does this dissolve the dichotomy between a transcendent God and an immanent God?
If God was confined to a limited physical location, that means that he was entirely absent in a different location. I’m kind of surprised that Wright takes a rather (for the lack of a better word) ‘literalist’ interpretation of this. But, I think he’s right, it seems that the ancient Israelites did have more a materialistic view of the world (not in the sense of consumerism, but in terms of the immanent physical world) than we moderns do; believing in bodily resurrection, non-belief in an afterlife and so forth. I wonder if they had the same kind of conceptual separation between transcendence and immanence as we do. What did “the heavens” refer to in the opening lines of Genesis? Did they actually think of heaven as an actual place, as in the story of Job, or was used figuratively in their story-telling?
P.S. By the way, I hope your rules on commenting aren’t as strict as Bill’s. 😉
Hi Adam. Yes, it is very interesting. And, no our commenting rules are not strict as Bill’s. Our articles aren’t as controversial as his, either! “The heavens” in Genesis, and Job? Good question. I don’t have an answer right now.
Regarding the transcendence/immanence issue – Wright doesn’t take this literal approach the whole time. He reads certain texts which say clearly that God dwells on Mount Zion, and here he discusses what those texts imply (as above). At other times he takes texts which speak of God’s presence outside of his creation, and then discusses what they imply. He’s both/and on this issue. Ultimately, he does justice to both in his writing.
The Israelite view of the world was materialistic in the ways you’ve mentioned. The physical-ness of things was very important to them. God consistently reveals himself and represents himself in tangible, physical ways. The temple, the tabernacle, bread and wine. So the material reminders of God’s presence and gospel are central to a robust Judeo-Christian worldview.
The scriptures say that the eternal God, who cannot not be contained in a building (Acts 7:48,49) said that he was contained in the temple, the tabernacle, and in the second person of the Trinity. Add another paradox to the list.
By the way, I love the Both/And thing. I first took notice of the concept in a ethnographic account of how a group of peasants in the highlands of Bolivia retain their ‘devil worship’, albeit in clandestine ways, alongside their new Christian faith. Their view of history is interesting, in that they view the Christian ‘god’ as the god of the present age, which is signified by the sun; the moon, the paler light, signifies the god of the past age. History is split between the former traditional religion and the new, Christian era, wherein the past lingers on into the present. It’s a both/and thing. Yes, they have converted to Christianity, but very much in terms of their traditional cosmology. I’m not too sure where they believe God dwells.