Tag Archives: 1 Samuel 5

God in (and Out of) a Box

God In (and Out of) a Box (CaD 1 Sam 5) Wayfarer

…the following morning when [the Philistines] rose, there was [their god] Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.
1 Samuel 5:4-5 (NIV)

For many years, I’ve had an idea for a book about the things the contemporary church continues to get wrong. If I ever do write this book, one of the chapters would be about church buildings themselves. From an early age, I was taught to treat a church building as a sacred space. The church building was and sometimes is, referred to as God’s house or the house of God.

In yesterday’s post/podcast I spoke of treating God like a good luck charm. I like to think of our perception of church buildings as God’s House as the notion of “God in a box.”

The problem with believing the church building is “God’s house” is, of course, that Jesus was very clear that He was changing the paradigm. In His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus addressed her question about the “right” place to worship God by saying, “…believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem...a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

Jesus doubled down on this when He and the disciples were leaving the Temple in Jerusalem. His disciples commented on the magnificent Temple and Jesus replied that it was all going to be reduced to rubble, and it was just 40 years later.

Jesus’ taught that the “church” was not bricks and mortar but flesh and blood. When the Jesus Movement was changing the known world in the first two centuries, it had no churches or temples, no basilicas or cathedrals. The “church” was millions of followers who met, almost clandestinely, in people’s homes. It was only when the church became the Holy Roman Empire that the institution decided that God needed opulent cathedrals. The motivation wasn’t divine. It’s what human institutions do to centralize power and control masses of people. Jesus’ successful paradigm was that of Spirit-filled people loving, serving, and sharing in every home, neighborhood, and business. God was released from a box and carried by flesh-and-blood “temples” everywhere in the world. Jesus was wherever His followers happened to be. In Jesus’ paradigm “sacred space” was now the coffee shop, the office, the home, the pub, the park; It was wherever a believer, filled with Spirit and Truth was physically present in the moment. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Wherever two or three of you are together, I’m there, too.”

The Holy Roman Empire put God back in a box. Then they made sure that only an institutionally educated and approved class of elites were qualified to be God’s representatives. Way too many people still believe that God is confined in the building on the corner and that only educated men in robes represent Him.

Today’s chapter is also about “God in a box.” The Ark of the Covenant was literally a box that represented God’s presence among the Hebrew people. The Hebrews reduced the notion of God’s holy presence to a good luck charm that would secure victory. They were defeated and the box was taken by the Philistines who put the Ark in the sacred space of their patron god, Dagon, underneath Dagon’s statue. Mesopotamian peoples routinely saw battles as not just contests between peoples, but contests between deities. The Hebrews’ God was now subject to Dagon.

But, God will never be contained inside a box of human design. The statue of Dagon fell, its head and hands breaking off. This was significant because heads, hands, and limbs were often cut-off and brought home by victorious armies as proof of victory and as a way of tallying up the body count. It was an omen the Philistines would have instantly understood. There was also a plague of tumors that broke out among the Philistines, which is ironically the outcome God warned His own people about in Deuteronomy 28, should they stray from His ways.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that if I truly believe what Jesus taught, then my home office where I’m writing/recording these words is sacred space because God’s Spirit indwells me. I take Him with me everywhere I go today. God’s temple isn’t a building, it’s my body, and that should change my perspective on everything in my daily life.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Life-Cycle of History

(Photo credit: juanktru)

Then the Lord’s heavy hand struck the people of Ashdod and the nearby villages with a plague of tumors. 1 Samuel 5:6 (NLT)

Reading stories like these in the early chapters of Samuel, it is difficult to wrap our 21st century hearts and brains around a story that comes from a culture that predates us by 3,000 years. God seems to be a very different God than the one we hear about from Jesus’ lips or read about in the letters of Jesus’ first followers. On the surface of things, it seems to be a different God.

In my thirty-some year sojourn through God’s Message, I have wrestled with many of these questions. I don’t claim to be a theologian, nor do I claim to have all the answers. I have, however, had personal “Aha!” moments along the way. For example, I don’t believe God has changed, but I believe that civilization has changed. The way God communicates with His creation, our relationship with God and our perceptions of God have changed with the passing of time.

When our daughters were very young, I communicated with them in very terse black and white terms. I told them I loved them and we had many cherished moments of story times, and play times and cuddling together. Nevertheless, young children are unable to communicate at an adult level. Their brains are just forming. They are constantly testing the boundaries of rules and relationships while not being able to communicate at an advanced level. So, I dictated rules. I spoke stern warnings. My daughters experienced my love, but they also experienced my wrath. In their eyes, daddy was a loving father who cuddled on the couch, but also could be a scary dictator who punished them severely.

As young children grow and mature, our relationships with them change as a parent. We have more in depth and age appropriate conversations. They begin to see us and relate to us differently. Punishment for breaking our rules changes. This process continues into adolescence where children individuate and begin to press against the boundaries in an effort to become their own persons. In adulthood, children often look back and appreciate their parents in ways that would be impossible for them to have done as young children. If you ask our daughters to describe their father today it would sound like a very different parent than their two year old selves’ description of daddy after he punished them for trying to touch a red hot stove top (again).

I believe that there is a life-cycle to history (or, His-story) and the relationship between God and his children. From the birth of humanity in Genesis one, until the death and resurrection at the end of Revelation we live out a cosmic life span. In the toddler stages of ancient civilization God related to man in terse black and white terms of rules and corporal punishment. The relationship, the communication style, and our understanding was framed by humanity’s age and maturity. As human civilization grew and matured, God’s communication and how we relate to Him changed. It will continue to change. We know more, we communicate differently, and we relate as civilization in ways that are unprecedented in history.

Perhaps more learned men and women disagree with me. It’s okay if they do. I’ve gotten to an age when I accept and embrace my issues and limitations. People often disagree with me, and it’s perfectly okay because I often learn new things in the disagreement. Still, my thoughts on the life-cycle of our relationship with God helps me frame stories and chapters like todays. I don’t claim to fully understand, but it makes more sense in the context.

Today I’m appreciative of God as a loving parent who was present and taught humanity from the black and white rules of civilization’s infancy until the more mature age in which my part of the story is being played out.