Posted on June 28, 2015
Posted on June 28, 2015
Where is God’s presence, How are we to long for it, How much of it should we expect, and How much are we to be it for one another?
I have been thinking alot about these ideas through some ideas that have been recently popularised in John Waltons book, The Lost world of Genesis One1, which seeks to recover how ancient near middle eastern readers (or hearers) would have understood the story.
Walton explains how the garden of eden and more widely the creation of the cosmos follows patterns of other creation stories in the near East. The Genesis account describes the garden in ways the original hearers would have understood as at once and temple and a palace.
In ancient near eastern cultures humans created material idols, and placed them in a garden which was their ‘kingly’ seating and the temple at which people encountered their presence. What followed after the idol building phase was what was called a ‘spiritation’ ceremony, literally an in-Spirit-ing where the priest of the given idol would finalise the ceremony by breathing onto the idol to give it life. Remind you of anything?
Whatever else we want to argue that the creation story is, be it factual, literal, symbolic, allegorical it is clear the ancient hearers would have heard this story as at once familiar to other stories but also turning what would be expected around in ways that opened their eyes to both who God is and who they were.
Walton says we are then God’s idols, or more specifically vice-regents. Now these are unfamiliar terms but they are new words to help us understand more fully that we are, as was in common evangelical parlance a couple of decades ago, God’s ambassadors.
Think about an ambassdaor for a moment..what comes to mind?
You can see this in action movies; someone is running from the police in foreign nation and in the final moments they leap over the line into their own nation’s consulate and they are suddenly on ‘safe soil’. Diplomatically countries agree to consider the grounds of an embassy equivalent to the country it represents.
This is God’s intention, that we are His ambassadors, that we are the place that His rule and presence are found on earth. But is this the way we think about God’s presence most of the time?
I come from a Christian tradition that is considered third-wave charismatic (although many within it would never identify with that particular phrasing), it basically means, more charismatic than pentecostal, more evangelical than fundamentalist, more apostolic-prophetic than presbyterian or episcopal. As a movement we emphasise the power and presence of God, often in worship/prayer type gatherings. The general understanding is that in these places of encounter we immerse ourselves in the reality of the Spirit 2 in order to be carriers of the presence of God into the places we spend the rest of our days.
There is a great deal to be thankful for within this tradition, but it’s cons are that often by locating the presence of God somewhere, we can subconciously lose the sense that He is everywhere. By encountering God in Spirit we can underplay His presence in Flesh. By embracing His invisiblity we can underplay His hands and feet.
In the same way as God’s original desire in the garden was to have ambassadors, who not only came in the name of God, but actually manifest the very presence of God where they were, so too was this His desire in Israel. A people who would be for the nations a sign, a wonder, a representation. Then later the Church is called to be the same thing. There are many moments when both Israel and the Church seem to fall woefully short of that representation, so short that we think, God must have another plan. We are tempted to (especially those in my own tradition) think that God will come like the cloud of the Old Testament or the still small voice in the dead of the night, but God has resigned Himself, or more rightly, delighted Himself to be known through His body, the Church. Not to deny that there is a still small voice, or that His presence could manifest as a cloud, but those are not his grand salvation plan for the Earth, His People are.
Some dear friends of ours have found themselves in South Africa in the midst of some family health issues and we have been able to visit them in the last week or so. In some ways I think it has ministered to us both, and I’ve been thinking about this idea, traditionally (and sometimes in a tired-way) referred to as fellowship. We have mediated the very presence of Christ to one another, in our very ordinary flesh and blood presence, we have been the manifest grace of God to encourage and sustain one another, we have been the love of God by binding wounds and ministering peace.
I won’t be backing down from crying out with the Church one of it’s most ancient prayers; “Come, Holy Spirit”, but neither will I back down from sitting with friend who have been in-Spirited, and blessing the Lord for His presence manifest through theirs.
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